Limiting the feds' snooping

Recent developments could portend the demise of National Security Letters, which allow the FBI to get private customer information without a judge's approval

By Preston Gralla, Computerworld |  Security

Both companies should be commended for bringing these numbers to light, because it reminds people how this portion of the Patriot Act endangers their liberties. Even at the low range, those numbers show that a great number of people in the U.S. have been subjected to intrusive prying by the government without their knowledge.

March proved to be a good month for privacy advocates, because in the middle of the month -- between the release of Google's and Microsoft's reports -- federal district court Judge Susan Illston ruled that NSLs are an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. She said that the requirement that companies couldn't report that they had received NSLs was "impermissibly overbroad," and pointed out that 97% of the more than 200,000 NSLs issued to date were accompanied by gag orders.

Her ruling doesn't go into effect immediately; she gave the Obama administration 90 days to appeal it.

The White House shouldn't appeal. NSLs clearly violate the Constitution. Outlawing them won't affect national security, because the FBI and government agencies can still quickly get information they need, as long as it's truly justified. They'll only have to ask a judge. Before the Patriot Act, that's the way things worked -- with proper oversight.

There's no reason to believe they can't work that way again, effectively and constitutionally.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for and the author of more than 45 books, including Windows 8 Hacks (O'Reilly, 2012). See more by Preston Gralla on

Read more about privacy in Computerworld's Privacy Topic Center.

Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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