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Federal judge rules national security security letters unconstitutional

A judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled [order, PDF] Thursday that the use of national security letters [CRS backgrounder, PDF; FBI backgrounder] under 18 USC § 2709 [text] is unconstitutional. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) [advocacy website] challenged [press release] the use of national security letters by the FBI [official website] on behalf of an unnamed telecommunication company. The statute allows the FBI to issue national security letters without court approval, requiring telecommunication companies to turn over information about their subscribers. Furthermore, the nondisclosure provision of the law prohibits the telecommunications companies from revealing anything pertaining to the national security letters, including notifying the individual for which information was sought. The judge held that the nondisclosure provision is not narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest because "the government has not shown that it is generally necessary to prohibit recipients from disclosing the mere fact of their receipt of NSLs." The EFF stated that "[t]he First Amendment prevents the government from silencing people and stopping them from criticizing its use of executive surveillance power." The order was stayed 90 days to give the government time to appeal.

The EFF has strongly opposed controversial domestic surveillance by the US government. In November the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) [advocacy website] joined with the EFF to challenge [JURIST report] portions of the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act [campaign website] that requires all registered sex offenders, even those with decades-old misdemeanors and non-Internet related offenses, to turn in their Internet usage information to law enforcement. In September 2011 the EFF urged the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] to preserve two lawsuits [JURIST report] over the warrantless surveillance of US citizens. In January 2011 the EFF released a report [JURIST report] stating that between 2001 and 2008 the FBI committed approximately 800 violations of laws, executive orders, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations.

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