Saturday, March 16, 2013

Federal court strikes down National Security Letters

Everyone is obsessed with the CPAC clown show on my intertoobz, so this isn't making nearly as big a splash as it should be. Great news from a federal district court:
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.”
Not sure it's entirely fair to call it "the Obama administration’s surveillance practices." Obama's White House didn't invent the damn practice, but it's true Obama admin is still using it, albeit about half as much as the Bush administration. Furthermore Obama's DOJ is the one defending this case under the rather frightening premise that merely challenging the NSLs is breaking the odious law. So thrilled to see this ruling.

I have no doubt it will be appealed to the Ninth Circuit which at one time would have comforted me. This court used to be really good in ruling for civil rights. Lately not so much, so not popping the champagne until we see how it plays out. Still, it's better than nothing, so there's that.

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