New York - The American Civil Liberties Union won a tremendous victory for Internet privacy today in the case of ACLU & Doe v. Ashcroft, challenging the constitutionality of "National Security Letters" (NSLs) under the USA PATRIOT Act. The letters, issued directly by the Department of Justice without any court oversight, can be used to demand sensitive financial and communications information about citizens even if they are not suspected of any crime. When Internet Service Providers (ISPs) receive such demands they are forbidden from revealing their existence to anyone.
A federal court issued a decision [PDF 3.0M] in the case finding that the statute authorizing NSLs is unconstitutional and barring the DOJ from issuing further NSLs. US District Court Judge Victor Marrero also found the gag provision an unconstitutional prior restraint on protected speech.
EFF wrote an amicus brief in the case, joined by several ISPs and privacy organizations. The case will likely to be appealed to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
"Today's ruling is an important victory for the Bill of Rights, and a critical step toward reining in the unconstitutional reach of the Patriot Act," said Kurt Opsahl, EFF staff attorney. "The Court recognized that judicial oversight and the freedom to discuss our government's activities both online and offline are fundamental safeguards to civil liberties, and should not be thrown aside."
Electronic Frontier Foundation
[Note: the headline for this breaking news item was changed to reflect the fact that this decision struck down as unconstitutional the power to issue NSLs under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) as amended by PATRIOT, but did not specifically address any PATRIOT provision.]