Court Rules Patriot Act's "National Security Letter" Gag Provisions Unconstitutional

Last month, a federal appeals court sided with the ACLU and upheld, in part, a decision striking down the gag provisions of the Patriot Act which prevent National Security Letter (NSL) recipients from speaking out about secret demands for records.

The decision comes in an ACLU lawsuit, Doe v. Mukasey, challenging the FBI's authority to use NSLs to demand sensitive and private customer records from Internet Service Providers and then forbid them from discussing the requests.

"This is a major victory for the rule of law," said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "By upholding the critical check of judicial review, the FBI can no longer use this incredible power to hide abuse of its intrusive Patriot Act surveillance powers and silence critics."

Since the Patriot Act -- which relaxed restrictions on the FBI's use of power -- was passed in 2001, the number of NSLs issued has seen an astronomical increase to nearly 200,000 between 2003 and 2006. A March 2008 report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) revealed that the FBI continues to impose gag orders on about 97 percent of NSL recipients and that, in some cases, the FBI failed to sufficiently justify why the gag orders were imposed in the first place.

Learn more about Doe v. Mukasey and NSLs.