Obama Administration Will Not Ask Supreme Court To Take Up National Security Letter "Gag Order" Decision
Government Should Now Lift Gag Order On Internet Service Provider, Says ACLU
NEW YORK - The
government will not ask the Supreme Court to review a decision that
struck down Patriot Act provisions that allow the government to impose
unconstitutional gag orders on recipients of national security letters
(NSLs). NSLs issued by the FBI require recipients to turn over
sensitive information about their clients and subscribers. A lower
court ruled in 2007 that the gag order provisions were
unconstitutional, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
upheld that ruling in 2008. The government's time for petitioning the
Supreme Court for review has now expired.
"We're very pleased that the government has decided not to seek further
review of the appeals court's decision," said Jameel Jaffer, Director
of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project. "The
appeals court was right to find that the FBI can't be given the
unchecked power to impose gag orders on the recipients of national
security letters, and the government's decision not to seek Supreme
Court review means that FBI gag orders will finally be subject to
meaningful judicial review. As the last few years have shown us, the
blanket of secrecy that cloaks the FBI's activities is an invitation to
abuse. Judicial review may not end that abuse altogether, but it will
certainly discourage it."
The lawsuit at issue, now called Doe v. Holder,
was filed by the ACLU and New York Civil Liberties Union in April 2004
on behalf of an Internet service provider (ISP) that the FBI served
with an NSL. Because the FBI imposed a gag order on the ISP, the
lawsuit was filed under seal, and even today the ACLU is prohibited
from disclosing its client's identity.
Because the government has decided
not to seek Supreme Court review, it will now for the first time have
to defend the constitutionality of the gag order on the ACLU's client.
The FBI continues to enforce the gag order even though the underlying
investigation is more than five years old and may well have ended, and
even though the FBI abandoned its demand for records from the ISP more
than two years ago.
"The next step is for the government
to drop the unwarranted and unconstitutional gag on Doe," said Melissa
Goodman, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "At
this point it's clear that the gag order serves no legitimate purpose."
Moreover, beyond the resolution of
the gag that was imposed in this case, the appeals court decision will
require the government to develop new procedures under which it will
bear the burden of justifying any gag that it seeks to impose.
"We hope and expect that the new
procedures will strike a constitutionally appropriate balance between
free expression and national security," said Arthur Eisenberg, Legal
Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Attorneys on the case are Jaffer, Goodman, Eisenberg and L. Danielle Tully of the ACLU National Security Project.
More information on Doe v. Holder and NSLs is available online at: www.aclu.org/nsl
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.