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The controversial aspect of the USA Patriot Act has once again been struck down

A federal judge struck down the controversial National Security Letter (NSL) provision of the revised USA Patriot Act, with Federal District Judge Victor Marrera ruling it "unconstitutional." A favorite tool of the FBI, NSLs were found to violate the principle of seperation of powers and the First Amendment.

National Security Letters are a form of subpoena that allows the FBI or other government agencies to gather data from companies or individuals in secret and without court approval. Oftentimes ISPs find themselves targetted and are forced to turn over phone records, web surfing histories, or e-mail. However, the powers of NSLs have also been used against financial, credit, or even library records. NSL recipients are bound under a gag order and forbidden from discussing any aspect of the NSL to anyone, including close family or friends.

Government orders require judicial oversight, wrote Judge Marrera: "as this decision recognizes, courts have a constitutionally mandated role to play when national security policies infringe on First Amendment rights. A statute that allows the FBI to silence people without meaningful judicial oversight is unconstitutional." In a 106-page ruling, Juedge Marrero called the NSL "the legislative equivalent of breaking and entering, with an ominous free pass to the hijacking of constitutional values."

Although only part of the NSL provision was found to be unconstitutional, all of it was struck down as Judge Marrera found the offending parts to be inseperable from the rest of the law.

"The courts play an important role in balancing the requirements of national security against the constitutional protections that safeguard our basic freedoms and liberties," said New York Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Arthur Eisenburg. "We are delighted that the court fulfilled that important function in this case."

While the FBI has had the power to issue NSLs for years, the number of national security letters issued has risen tremendously since the expansion of its abilities as enacted in the USA Patriot Act, culminating with 19,000 NSLs issued in 2005 seeking over 47,000 various pieces of information, sent mostly to telecommunications and ISPs. In an internal audit, conducted by the FBI against approximately 10% of all NSLs issues from 2002 to 2007, it was discovered that these requests violated agency rules or federal law over 1,000 times. Actual numbers are sketchy, however, as the FBI has consistently underreported NSL statistics. A report issued by the Justice Department's Inspector General puts the number of NSLs issued between 2003 to 2005 at over 143,000.

The NSL provision of the Patriot Act was originally struck down in a 2004 ruling also issued by Judge Marrera as part of Doe v. Gonzales, who noted that "democracy abhors undue secrecy." The case, which was filed on behalf of an anonymous ISP that had been served with an NSL, was later appealed by the government -- however the law was changed before the court could issue a decision.

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RE: Thank God.
By dluther on 9/10/2007 11:35:33 AM , Rating: 1
We can not ignore our constitution in the name of fighting terrorism. To me, that's like letting the terrorists win.

I'll go a step further and say that with the passage of the so-called "Patriot Act", the terrorists already won.

The far right-wing couch commandos in this country have long rallied around the saying 'the terrorists hate us because of our freedom'. So obviously, the right thing to do was give up our freedom, which accomplished two things: 1 - it allows us to fight terrorism, and 2 - it appeases the terrorists who won't hate us so much because we don't have that much freedom anymore.

As with all blanket security measures, the Patriot Act was completely abused by the government, with the DOJ putting on 'road shows' demonstrating how to use the new provisions in the Patriot Act to monitor everything from tax evasion and money laundering to drug smuggling and child pornography. All of which are valiant efforts, but all of which have nothing to do with terrorism.

Oh, and the government's response to anyone who dares to oppose the Patriot Act? "If you're not doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to worry about." Well folks, when you get right down to it, that argument has never held water as we stiffly deride other countries who use such lame rhetoric to candy-coat their draconian domestic surveillance programs, such as North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China.

I've seen a lot of half-assed arguments on this board both for and against the Patriot Act. But ultimately, the Patriot Act is a symptom of a larger problem with America, which is the current generation of Americans have been coddled way too much growing up. Putting it another way that leaves no room for misinterpretation, America is a country full of spineless cowards. How else would you explain such acts of legislation from the inane such as mandatory bicycle helmets to the insane, such as certain elementary schools banning the game of 'tag'.

The way you defeat terrorists is to stop being terrified. Frightened people are easy to control, and the Patriot Act clearly demonstrates how easily this is accomplished. Cowards will always gladly give up their freedom for even the illusion of security, and will rally around any snake-oil salesman willing to step up and tell them who to blame while absolving them of the slightest culpability.

Ultimately, Benjamin Franklin said it best: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates

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