Setback for the Snoopers; the Court Whacks the FBI for Its Outrageous 'National Security Letters'

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 19, 2013 | Go to article overview

Setback for the Snoopers; the Court Whacks the FBI for Its Outrageous 'National Security Letters'


Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In the wake of Sept. 11, many Americans cheerfully gave law enforcement the benefit of almost any doubt. It was anything goes if it meant stopping enemies from ever having an upper hand again. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy has been cheerfully willing to bypass judicial oversight on the way to obtaining unprecedented access to personal information of good Americans.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston last week struck a blow for the Constitution, ordering the FBI to quit using national security letters, so called, to gather information from telecommunications firms without a warrant. According to the Justice Department, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cox and others got demands for customer information 47,000 times in 2005 alone. In 97 percent of those cases, the letter imposed a gag order that prohibited the company from even discussing the incident or acknowledging the existence of the national security letter.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which fights for online privacy rights, argued the case on behalf of one of the firms, which can't even be identified because of a gag order. The letter was based on a classified declaration from a senior official with the FBI, and it must be obeyed. Unless a judge has particular reason to suspect ill will on the part of that official, the mere assertion that disclosure of the existence of the letter would endanger national security shall be treated as conclusive under the law.

The Justice Department is so ruthless in sending the letters that it filed a separate lawsuit against the company that tried to challenge the letter in court. That went too far in Judge Illston's view. The Court finds that, as written, the statute impermissibly attempts to circumscribe a court's ability to review the necessity of nondisclosure orders, she wrote. …

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