That provision also violated the Constitution because it blocks meaningful judicial review.
Illston ordered the FBI to cease issuing the letters, but put her order on hold for 90 days so the U.S. Department of Justice can appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Pretty much standard operating proceedure when national security is the issue.
The FBI made 16,511 national security letter requests for information regarding 7,201 people in 2011, the latest data available. The FBI uses the letters to collect unlimited kinds of sensitive, private information like financial and phone records.
With the NSL law struck down, however, the full picture of how the FBI has wielded its unprecedented surveillance power in recent years may soon be revealed – provided, that is, if Judge Illston’s ruling is upheld.
That’s still a big “if”. Citing “significant constitutional and national security issues,” the judge has stayed her own ruling for 90 days or until the government appeals, whichever comes sooner.
Google had disclosed recently, the number of NSLs the federal government had issued.
A federal judge has struck down a set of laws allowing the FBI to issue so-called national security letters to banks, phone companies and other businesses demanding customer information.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said the laws violate the First Amendment and the separation of powers principles and ordered the government to stop issuing the secretive letters or enforcing their gag orders, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The FBI almost always bars recipients of the letters from disclosing to anyone — including customers — that they have even received the demands, Illston said in the ruling released Friday.
The government has failed to show that the letters and the blanket non-disclosure policy “serve the compelling need of national security,” and the gag order creates “too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted,” the San Francisco-based Illston wrote.
A Department of Justice spokesman told the Journal the department was “reviewing the order.”