Nondisclosure or gag provisions of National Security Letters “significantly infringe upon speech regarding controversial government powers,” a district court in California ruled on March 15. The provisions were found to violate the First Amendment and “separation of powers principles.”
National Security Letters (NSLs) are issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). They are issued to telecommunication companies, financial institutions, credit companies, etc, without court approval and, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) describes, make it possible for the FBI to compile “vast dossiers about innocent people and obtain sensitive information such as the web sites a person visits, a list of email addresses with which a person has corresponded, or even unmask the identity of a person who has posted anonymous speech on a political website.”
The authority to do this was granted under the guise of protecting national security by Congress in the PATRIOT Act.
Even more totalitarian than what the FBI actually does with information it obtains without court approval is the fact that NSLs have had “gag” provisions that require recipients to be silent. The company being asked to provide records is supposed to not talk about NSL requests publicly. The person whose data is being mined by the FBI is supposed to be silent as well.
In a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on behalf of an “unnamed telecommunications company,” a US district court in California ruled the gag provisions were unconstitutional. [++]