US judge deems FBI snooping tactic unconstitutional
By Glenn Chapman ,AFPSAN FRANCISCO -- A U.S. judge has ordered the FBI to stop its “pervasive” use of National Security letters to snoop on phone and email records, ruling Friday that the widespread tactic was unconstitutional.
March 17, 2013, 12:31 am TWN
The order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco came as a blow to a measure heavily used by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.
The Patriot Act passed after the Sept. 11 attacks gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation strong authority to order that people's telecom records be handed over, without such requests having to be disclosed.
But in her ruling, Illston said evidence indicated that tens of thousands of NSLs are sent out every year, and that 97 percent of them are fettered with the provision that recipients never mention the requests.
“This pervasive use of nondisclosure orders, coupled with the government's failure to demonstrate that a blanket prohibition on recipients' ability to disclose the mere fact of receipt of an NSL is necessary to serve the compelling need of national security, creates too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted,” Illston said in her written decision.
Illston set her ban on NSLs to take effect in 90 days to allow U.S. lawyers to appeal the decision.
The judge's ruling came in a lawsuit filed in 2011 by Internet rights law group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on behalf of an unnamed telecom company.
Google early this month made the unusual move of adding NSLs to its transparency report about requests by governments for data about users of the Internet giant's various online products and services.