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Judge: FBI gag orders unconstitutional
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of San Francisco Chronicle (SF's leading newspaper)


San Francisco Chronicle (SF's leading newspaper), March 15, 2013
Posted: March 25th, 2013
http://www.sfgate.com/politics/article/Judge-FBI-gag-orders-...

In a blow against government secrecy, a federal judge ruled [on March 15] that the tens of thousands of "national security letters" the FBI sends each year demanding customer records from phone companies, banks and others, are unconstitutional because they forbid recipients from revealing that the letters exist. A gag order that makes it a crime to disclose one has received such a letter "restrains ... speech about government conduct" with little opportunity for judicial review, said U.S. District Judge Susan Illston of San Francisco. She directed the FBI to stop issuing national security letters that contain gag orders, but put her ruling on hold during an expected government appeal. Attorney Matt Zimmerman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the suit in May 2011 on behalf of an unnamed telecommunications company, said [that] the gag orders "have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools." The USA Patriot Act, passed in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, authorized the FBI to issue national security letters on its own for information that it considers relevant to an investigation of international terrorism or spying. Virtually all of the letters include a permanent gag order. In 2008, a federal appeals court in New York found the gag orders constitutionally defective. Congress amended the law in 2006 to allow recipients to challenge national security letters on constitutional grounds, but left the government with near-total power over the gag orders, Illston said.

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