EFF explains yesterday's National Security Letter ruling

Further to Xeni's post from yesterday about the landmark ruling by a San Francisco district court judge that the FBI may not issue "national security letters" (NSLs), the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who fought the case, has posted a good explanation about what NSLs are and why they were so creepy:

The controversial NSL provisions EFF challenged on behalf of the unnamed client allow the FBI to issue administrative letters -- on its own authority and without court approval -- to telecommunications companies demanding information about their customers. The controversial provisions also permit the FBI to permanently gag service providers from revealing anything about the NSLs, including the fact that a demand was made, which prevents providers from notifying either their customers or the public. The limited judicial review provisions essentially write the courts out of the process.

In today's ruling, the court held that the gag order provisions of the statute violate the First Amendment and that the review procedures violate separation of powers. Because those provisions were not separable from the rest of the statute, the court declared the entire statute unconstitutional. In addressing the concerns of the service provider, the court noted: "Petitioner was adamant about its desire to speak publicly about the fact that it received the NSL at issue to further inform the ongoing public debate."

"The First Amendment prevents the government from silencing people and stopping them from criticizing its use of executive surveillance power," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "The NSL statute has long been a concern of many Americans, and this small step should help restore balance between liberty and security."

I am so proud of my friends at EFF this morning. Go team!

National Security Letters Are Unconstitutional, Federal Judge Rules


    1. I strongly suspect that if we knew more about what’s going on under the cloak of secrecy, we’d say it has already slipped, probably quite some time ago.  “Church Committee rulings and resulting restrictions?! Pffft, we’ve long ago found workarounds through data from private corporations… and your neighbors.”



      or, much better yet, read the book upon which it is based if you haven’t already.  The book is vastly more damning than the PBS Frontline episode and that, along with several other unremarkable Frontlines and a Nova unfortunately indicate to me that even PBS can no longer be counted upon to do good investigative journalism or even report upon it.

    1. Do not underestimate the power of a group of dedicated, bespectacled bearded geeks. (I’m counting the woman’s scarf as an honorary beard.)

  1. YAY!!!!
    Thank you so much for protecting our freedoms!
    It seems our government hates us for our freedoms…
    oops- what does that make them? Bush said something about that…

    1. If you mean that then I hope you (and everyone else) has donated to the EFF.

      If you donate not only do you get sweet membership stuff like tshirts to spread the word about EFF in meat-space, you also get a high-five from the internet every time something like this happens.

      Thanks EFF and BB, from where I heard about EFF.

  2. Real Life heroes if i’ve ever seen any. Not as dramatic as firefighters or paramedics, but they protect and secure our freedoms from overreaching idiots. Doesn’t matter if those that think this crap up mean well or not. It’s still stupid to have ever considered the idea of a no-external-review gag order that you’re not even allowed to talk about.

  3. YAY! These are great people. And, I’d like to suggestion one way of  thanking them for their work is to become a member if you aren’t already. Plus, if you want you can get a really cool hat!

  4. Is everyone in the EFF related to one another? Or do they all just shop at the same eyeglasses shop? Also, kudos to the EFF for this success. I look forward to following this case as it wends its way through the appeals process.

  5. How does facial hair and corrective lenses correlate so closely with litigating for the First Amendment?

  6. Excellent ruling!  Not only am I proud of the EFF, I am proud of the Judge.

    Nice to see the honor in the mandatory “your Honor”.  8)

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