Judge: FBI surveillance method violates First Amendment

A judge in California has ruled that National Security Letters, more commonly called NSLs, are in violation of the First Amendment. This is a significant ruling, and comes at a time when the FBI has come under fire for using them with false claims and other such issues. NSLs are said to be a vital part of combating terrorism.

National Security Letters allow the FBI to pull records on individuals without having to go through the courts, a surveillance method that involves a gag order on the fact that it even existed. Those who are the subjects of the NSLs (meaning individuals whose information has been obtained with them) are not notified that the NSL was ever used.

According to Northern District of California Judge Susan Illston, that aspect of the NSLs is in violation of the First Amendment. Her ruling earlier today has been stayed because the US government could appeal, but if it the ruling holds, NSLs will not be permitted because they are unconstitutional.

The way NSLs work is fairly straight forward. An official's supervisor must state that the records to be pulled are related to or somehow relevant in an investigation in a national security issue. This allows the FBI to avoid the hassle of a warrant, something the agency claims is necessary in our post-911 world. Likewise, the agency has stated that problems cited with NSLs – abuse, namely – have been corrected.

[via Washington Post]