Friday, September 07, 2007

National Security Letters Unconstitutiona -- At last!

Click on the title to this post to read a good, in-depth article by Charlie Savage in today’s Boston Globe. U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero finds the PATRIOT ACT unconstitutional. The National Security Letter provisions, in particular, with their gag order and lack of judicial oversight, violate the First Amendment and the
separation of powers.

Click here
for the ACLU announcement

which has this tidy history of the case:

The case, Doe v. Gonzales, was originally filed in April 2004 on behalf of an anonymous Internet access company that had received anNSL. Although the FBI has since dropped its NSL demand, the John Doe has remained under a gag order. In September 2004, Judge Marrero initially struck down the Patriot Act NSL provision as unconstitutional, writing that "democracy abhors undue secrecy." The landmark ruling held that permanent gag orders imposed under theNSL law violated free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.

The government appealed Judge Marrero's first ruling, but Congress amended the NSL provision before the court issued a decision. In May 2006 the appeals court asked the district court to consider the constitutionality of the amended law. In a concurring opinion, Judge RichardCardamone strongly criticized the government for continuing to argue that a permanent ban on speech would be permissible under the First Amendment. (Snip)

While reports previously indicated a hundred-fold increase to 30,000 NSLs issued annually, an extraordinary March 2007 report from the Justice Department's own Inspector General puts the actual number at over 143,000NSLs issued between 2003 and 2005. The same investigation also found serious FBI abuses of the NSL power and numerous potential violations of the law.

In a related case, the ACLU represented four librarians who are on the board of Library Connection, a library consortium in Connecticut. The consortium was served with anNSL and challenged both the letter and the accompanying gag. After many months of litigation in which a district court found the gag on Library Connection was unconstitutional, the government withdrew its demand for information and abandoned the gag order.
Click here for the text of the latest decision and another link to get the rest of the materials, courtesy of the ACLU.

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