WASHINGTON – Today, a federal judge in a New York court ruled that the gag order associated with National Security Letters (NSLs) violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and is therefore unconstitutional.
The FBI has claimed from the beginning that the need for secrecy in its surveillance activities not only outweighs the First Amendment right to free speech but also judiciary oversight. ALA firmly opposes the use of NSLs – specifically to obtain library records – and has urged immediate reforms of NSL procedures.
“The FBI’s serious and widespread abuse of NSLs has confirmed many of ALA’s concerns about the lack of oversight into the FBI’s surveillance activities,” said Jim Rettig, President-Elect of ALA. “This decision that the gag order is unconstitutional is a clear victory for those disturbed by the lack of judicial oversight in the NSL process.”
“The decision affirms civil liberties,” he said.
In 2005, Library Connection, a non-profit library group in Connecticut, received an NSL from the FBI, along with its accompanying gag order, demanding library records. Library Connection challenged the constitutionality of the NSL and its perpetual gag and eventually the FBI withdrew its appeal to keep their identities hidden after Federal District Court Judge Janet C. Hall declared the gag order unconstitutional.
ALA has long opposed several aspects of the PATRIOT Act, including NSLs. At its Annual Conference, which was held this year in Washington, DC, ALA passed a resolution calling for Congress to reform laws governing the FBI’s use of NSLs.