National Security Letters are warrantless demands for information that have one particularly bad characteristic. The NSLs specifically prohibit the recipient of the NSL from notifying persons whose information is being sought. Essentially, the recipient of the NLS is subject to a gag order, which is said to be not subject to appeal.
However, a Federal district court judge in California has ruled all NSLs unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered the government to stop issuing so-called NSLs across the board, in a stunning defeat for the Obama administration’s surveillance practices. She also ordered the government to cease enforcing the gag provision in any other cases. However, she stayed her order for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We are very pleased that the Court recognized the fatal constitutional shortcomings of the NSL statute,” 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. “The government’s gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience.”