A judge in the 9th Circuit Court ruled on Friday that “ultra-secret” national security letters (NSL) that come with a gag order on the recipient are an unconditional violation of free speech, Wired.com reported on Friday
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered the government to stop issuing all NSLs, which comes a shocking blow to the Obama administration’s surveillance practices. The order, however,is stayed for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“It’s a huge deal to say you are in violation of federal law having to do with a national security investigation,” 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. “That is extraordinarily aggressive from my standpoint. They’re saying you are violating the law by challenging our authority here.”
While the government made a compelling argument for prohibiting the recipients of NSLs from disclosing to the target of an investigation or the public the specific information being sought by an NSL, Illston said it’s not sufficient enough to claim that receiving an NSL serves national security interests.
“(It) creates too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted,” she said in regards to a blanket prohibition on disclosure. Illston noted that 97 percent of the more than 200,000 NSLs that have been issued by the government were issued with nondisclosure orders.
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