A federal judge today struck down portions of the USA Patriot Act as unconstitutional, ordering the FBI to stop issuing "national security letters" that secretly demand customer information from Internet service providers and other businesses.Related: Illegal Wiretapping Useless in "War on Terror"
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in New York ruled that the landmark anti-terrorism law violates the First Amendment and the Constitution's separation of powers provisions because it effectively prohibits recipients of the FBI letters (NSLs) from revealing their existence and does not provide adequate judicial oversight of the process.
Marrero wrote in his 106-page ruling that Patriot Act provisions related to NSLs are "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values."
The decision has the potential to eliminate one of the FBI's most widely used investigative tactics. It comes amid widespread concern on Capitol Hill over reported abuses in the way the FBI has used its NSL powers...
But Marrero wrote that "in light of the seriousness of the potential intrusion into the individual's personal affairs and the significant possibility of a chilling effect on speech and association--particularly of expression that is critical of the government or its policies--a compelling need exists to ensure that the use of NSLs is subject to the safeguards of public accountability, checks and balances, and separation of powers that our Constitution prescribes."
He ruled that only some of the NSL provisions were unconstitutional, but found that it was impossible to separate those provisions from other parts of the law. He therefore struck down the FBI's ability to issue NSLs altogether...