This is big news, but I have a feeling it will get squashed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. What’s really concerning about the NSLs, are the gag orders that prevent telecoms from even having an open discourse on a subject that affects everyone on a most fundamental level.
Ultra-secret national security letters that come with a gag order on the recipient are an unconstitutional impingement on free speech, a federal judge in California ruled in a decision released Friday.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered the government to stop issuing so-called NSLs across the board, in a stunning defeat for the Obama administration’s surveillance practices. She also ordered the government to cease enforcing the gag provision in any other cases. However, she stayed her order for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We are very pleased that the Court recognized the fatal constitutional shortcomings of the NSL statute,” said Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a challenge to NSLs on behalf of an unknown telecom that received an NSL in 2011. “The government’s gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience.”
The telecommunications company received the ultra-secret demand letter in 2011 from the FBI seeking information about a customer or customers. The company took the extraordinary and rare step of challenging the underlying authority of the National Security Letter, as well as the legitimacy of the gag order that came with it.
Here’s the NSL Order:
Nicholas Merrill is another that challenged the NSLs a while back, and bellow is a candid account of what transpired:
He spoke at a Cato Hill Briefing for Freshman Congressional staffers on March 20, 2011. Nicholas Merrill is the founder of the Calyx Institute and Calyx Internet Access. He spoke at a Cato Hill Briefing for Freshman Congressional staffers on March 20, 2011. He describes the experience of receiving a National Security Letter in 2004 and not being sure who he could talk to about it– his business partner? his lawyer?– and the ensuing seven-year battle in court. In the end, the gag order was partially lifted, allowing Merrill to reveal that he was the plaintiff in Doe (and the A.C.L.U.) v. Ashcroft. Now he travels the country speaking about National Security Letters, but still cannot reveal certain details surrounding his case.