In a very strange development, a federal judge who previously declared the FBI’s use of National Security Letters unconstitutional has now ordered Google to comply with nearly 20 such NSLs and turn over the information requested — and to not talk about who the target is or what information was turned over.
A federal judge has ruled that Google Inc. must comply with the FBI’s warrantless demands for customer data, rejecting the company’s argument that the government’s practice of issuing so-called national security letters to telecommunication companies, Internet service providers, banks and others was unconstitutional and unnecessary…
The letters are used to collect unlimited kinds of sensitive, private information, such as financial and phone records and have prompted complaints of government privacy violations in the name of national security. Many of Google’s services, including its dominant search engine and the popular Gmail application, have become daily habits for millions of people.
In a ruling written May 20 and obtained Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston ordered Google to comply with the FBI’s demands.
But she put her ruling on hold until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could decide the matter. Until then, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company must comply with the letters unless it shows the FBI didn’t follow proper procedures in making its demands for customer data in the 19 letters Google is challenging, she said.
But this is the same judge who ruled, less than three months ago, that the use of NSLs was inherently unconstitutional and that the FBI must stop using them. The Electronic Frontier Foundation praised Judge Illston for a thorough and well-reasoned ruling that actually enforced the 4th Amendment. What has changed in the meantime? I don’t know. Did the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturn her March ruling and remand the case? It seems unlikely that they would have done so that quickly.
NSLs are blatantly unconstitutional. They allow the FBI to send a letter to a telecom or internet provider and demand that they turn over the confidential records of their clients with no oversight whatsoever from a judge. The 4th Amendment clearly requires such a seizure to be done only pursuant to a warrant from a judge. And to make things worse, the company is then gagged from ever revealing that their client was the target of such a seizure.
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