Judge Orders End to FBI Data Demands

Following a telecom company's federal lawsuit, the government can no longer send National Security Letters.

The Patriot Act passed after the September 11 attacks gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation strong authority to order that people's telecom records be handed over, without such requests having to be disclosed.

 

A federal judge late last week ordered the government to stop issuing “national security letters” (NSLs) – demands for data that contain gag clauses, preventing recipients from disclosing their existence or contents. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco ruled that the the secretive demands for customer data violate the First Amendment.

Last year the FBI sent out more than 16,000 of the letters relating to the private data – mainly financial, internet or phone records – of more than 7,000 Americans. The agency began issuing NSLs in 2001, when Congress passed the Patriot Act. However, critics have long argued that the use of NSLs has extended beyond its intended counter-terror purpose. The judge noted in her decision that “too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted” with the letters and their non-disclosure clause.

Since the decision, it has come to light that California-based telecom firm Credo likely the plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging NSLs (lawyers with the EFF filed the suit in 2011 on behalf of an anonymous company). Credo’s CEO released a statement praising the ruling:

“This ruling is the most significant court victory for our constitutional rights since the dark day when George W. Bush signed the PATRIOT Act ,” said Michael Kieschnick, CEO of CREDO Mobile. “This decision is notable for its clarity and depth. From this day forward, the U.S. government’s unconstitutional practice of using National Security Letters to obtain private information without court oversight and its denial of the First Amendment rights of National Security Letter recipients have finally been stopped by our courts.”

 

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