National Security Letters found unconstitutional last week.

11 September 2007

Last calendar week something unusual happened in the US court system: The sections of the USA PATRIOT Act that made it far easier to get National Security Letters were declared unconstitutional (specifically, they violate the First Amendment rights of US citizens) by federal Judge Victor Marrero. National Security Letters, or NSLs, are official documents written up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation which can be used to demand sensitive information, such as personnel dossiers, telephone or Internet usage information, and financial history information without having to go on the record by requesting a search warrant from the court system. These letters effectively let an operative bypass the court system completely, but they were declared unconstitutional because stipulations were added by the PATRIOT Act which forbid anyone that's ever been presented with one from ever mentioning that they received one or that they complied with it under pain of federal prison for interfering with an investigation (the exact wording is "in perpetuity"). This also prevents anyone served with an NSL from seeking out legal representation because then they'd have to mention that they'd been slapped with an NSL. Since the laws that provide for NSLs were amended a few short years ago, the number of NSLs that were called into play jumped from the neighborhood of 8,500 per year to well over 56,000 and climbing.