A San Francisco federal appeals court heard arguments today in an activist lawsuit seeking to ban National Security Letters, or NSLs, as unconstitutional. NSLs are one of the more controversial tools used by the FBI to conduct investigations, as they include a gag order preventing the recipient from talking about the fact that they got an NSL.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the NSLs as unconstitutional in 2011, well before the Snowden disclosures about widespread surveillance. Their two clients are unnamed, but one is a telecom company and one is an Internet company. The two “service providers” want to speak out about the fact that they received letters, but can’t. In April of last year, they won a stunning victory, when US District Judge Susan Ilston agreed with EFF that the letters are unconstitutional. The gag order stopping EFF’s clients from discussing “controversial government powers” violates the First Amendment, Ilston ruled.
The government has appealed the proceeding. Today, almost 19 months after Ilston’s order came out, a three-judge appeals panel heard arguments from both sides.
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