NEWS

Government Will Appeal Ruling on National Security Letters

By Matthew Harwood

The federal government will appeal a judge's ruling from September that struck down a key provision of the U.S. Patriot Act, which allowed the government to access the phone, e-mail, and financial records of citizens without their consent and without a judge's approval, reports The Associated Press.

The Patriot Act prevents Internet service providers and others from telling their customers — here or abroad, citizens or not — if the government has demanded private information from them.

The law also lets the government, by means of a so-called national security letter, or NSL, to impose gag orders that prevent the recipients of the letters from acknowledging the probes.... In March, the government released a report showing the FBI issued approximately 8,500 national security letter requests in 2000, the year before the passage of the Patriot Act. The number of requests rose to 39,000 by 2003 and to 56,000 in 2004 before falling to 47,000 in 2005. Most of the requests sought telephone billing records, telephone or e-mail subscriber information or electronic communication transactional records.

The ruling district judge, Victor Marrero, said the national security letter statute was so unconstitutional he described it as the "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering."

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