EFF wins federal ruling striking down NSLs

As reported today in Wired magazine:

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.”

Our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been litigating this case since May 2011.  According to Legal Director Cindy Cohn:

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

While Judge Illston's holding remains vulnerable to appeal in the Ninth Circuit, BORDC salutes our allies at EFF for their excellent advocacy and a rare piece of good news, and also thanks March 2012 BORDC patriot award winner Nick Merrill for being an early champion in the struggle against NSLs.

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