In a case surely destined for the Supreme Court, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) took to the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco on Wednesday to defend a lower court's decision that a national security letter requesting customer information from a mobile provider is unconstitutional and to appeal rulings by two other courts supporting the enforcement of NSLs delivered to the same mobile provider and one other.
EFF, in a brief, called the issuance of the letters as it currently stands an “unprecedented grant of authority to the FBI” and said it “is unconstitutional on several grounds.”
In the first case, the provider originally challenged the initial NSL, which came with a permanent gag order which prevented the company from revealing the request or anything about it. Ever. A lower court ruled in the company's favor and deemed the letter as unconstitutional.
Yet a court ruled against the same company and one other when they subsequently challenged NSLs that they had received. In its brief, EFF claimed, “The statutes governing National Security Letters empower the FBI, without prior judicial authorization, to both demand customer records directly from Internet and telecommunication providers and to issue permanent gag orders that prevent the recipients from disclosing anything about the government's demand.”
EFF praised earlier Second Circuit and district court rulings in the first case, saying they were correct that “the power to issue such gag orders” violates the First Amendment because “the FBI to directly impose content-based prior restraints on speech and then insulates that Executive action from any kind of meaningful judicial review.”
What's more, the governing statute allows the law enforcement agency “to acquire potentially First Amendment protected information from NSL recipients without any obligation for a court to evaluate whether such actions are warranted.”