Federal court stikes down part of USA Patriot Act
Greg Wasserstrom
Published: Thursday September 6, 2007


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U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero today stated that a section of the updated USA PATRIOT ACT "offends the fundamental constitutional principles of checks and balances and separation of powers," and struck down the provision in the law allowing the government to secretly obtain personal records, the Associated Press reports.

Marrero ruled that the National Security Letter provision of the Act, permitting the FBI to demand the private information and then gag those who received the order, violated the the 1st amendment to the Constitution protecting free speech and also threatened separation of powers. "In light of the seriousness of the potential intrusion into the individual's personal affairs and the significant possibility of a chilling effect on speech and association - particularly of expression that is critical of the government or its policies - a compelling need exists to ensure that the use of NSLs is subject to the safeguards of public accountability, checks and balances, and separation of powers that our Constitution prescribes," Marrero wrote.

If the ruling is to be upheld, such NSLs must be subjected to full judicial review.

"As the court recognized, there must be real, meaningful judicial checks on the exercise of executive power," said Melissa Goodman, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union, the organization that first challenged the law in December 2004. "Without oversight, there is nothing to stop the government from engaging in broad fishing expeditions, or targeting people for the wrong reasons, and then gagging Americans from ever speaking out against potential abuses of this intrusive surveillance power."

The ruling is a setback for the Bush Administration whose broad claims to secrecy are coming under growing scrutiny.

LINK TO THE AP STORY HERE.

FULL TEXT OF THE ACLU PRESS RELEASE AT THIS LINK.