Federal Judge Strikes Down National-Security-Letter Provision of Patriot Act
Article, ACLU press release, some legal commentary, and actual decision.
From the article:
The ACLU had challenged the law on behalf of an Internet service provider, complaining that the law allowed the FBI to demand records without the kind of court supervision required for other government searches. Under the law, investigators can issue so-called national security letters to entities like Internet service providers and phone companies and demand customers’ phone and Internet records.
In his ruling, Marrero said much more was at stake than questions about the national security letters.
He said Congress, in the original USA Patriot Act and less so in a 2005 revision, had essentially tried to legislate how the judiciary must review challenges to the law. If done to other bills, they ultimately could all “be styled to make the validation of the law foolproof.”
Noting that the courthouse where he resides is several blocks from the fallen World Trade Center, the judge said the Constitution was designed so that the dangers of any given moment could never justify discarding fundamental individual liberties.
He said when “the judiciary lowers its guard on the Constitution, it opens the door to far-reaching invasions of liberty.”
Regarding the national security letters, he said, Congress crossed its boundaries so dramatically that to let the law stand might turn an innocent legislative step into “the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values.”
He said the ruling does not mean the FBI must obtain the approval of a court prior to ordering records be turned over, but rather must justify to a court the need for secrecy if the orders will last longer than a reasonable and brief period of time.
Note that judge immediately stayed his decision, pending appeal.
EDITED TO ADD (9/9): More legal commentary.
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