A controversial part of the Patriot Act (though the whole damn thing is controversial) has been struck down as unconstitutional by a US District Court Judge. The government no longer has the permission to demand records from Internet Service Providers and order them to keep quiet about it, to the press and to their users.

This is a great win for the side of Democracy! We need ALL the provisions of the Patriot Act to be repealed, for the good of our Nation.

Article archived here.Court strikes down Patriot Act provision

2 hours, 26 minutes ago Top Stories – USATODAY.com

By Toni Locy, USA TODAY

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a key provision of a law that is the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s legal war on terrorism, ruling that the FBI (news – web sites) cannot require Internet service providers to turn over subscriber information and keep quiet about it forever without giving the providers a chance to fight the government in court.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in New York in a case that pitted personal liberties against national security marked the first time that surveillance power granted to federal agents under the USA Patriot Act has been ruled unconstitutional.

“In general, as our sunshine laws and judicial doctrine attest, democracy abhors undue secrecy,” Marrero wrote. “Hence, an unlimited government warrant to conceal … has no place in our open society.”

Marrero postponed his decision for 90 days to give the government a chance to fix the law or appeal.

The civil case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (news – web sites) on behalf of an Internet provider whose name is being kept secret by the court. The provider received what is known as a national security letter – a demand, on FBI letterhead, to produce customer information. Unlike grand jury subpoenas, national security letters may not be contested before a judge.

Marrero said the provision’s “compulsory, secret and unreviewable production of information” demanded by the FBI violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches, and its unlimited ban on disclosure by recipients of the letters infringes on their free-speech rights under the First Amendment.

Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, called the decision “a stunning victory against John Ashcroft (news – web sites)’s Department of Justice (news – web sites),” referring to the attorney general whose defense of the Patriot Act has largely consumed his tenure as the nation’s top law enforcer. Mark Corallo, a Justice spokesman, said the department is reviewing the ruling.

Marrero’s decision comes as some members of Congress are trying to give U.S. agents more power to investigate terrorism, and President Bush (news – web sites) is urging Congress to renew 16 Patriot Act provisions set to expire in December 2005.

When Congress passed the Patriot Act in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, it significantly expanded the surveillance power of federal law enforcement.

The measure allowed the FBI and CIA (news – web sites) to share evidence and gave terrorism investigators access to evidence-gathering tools that agents in criminal probes had used for years.

In doing so, the Patriot Act amended several federal laws by, among other things, loosening standards for obtaining national security letters.

A 1986 law dealing with national security letters was among the statutes that were changed. It allowed the FBI to use the letters to obtain evidence on suspected “foreign powers or agents of foreign powers.”

The Patriot Act loosened the standard by requiring that the FBI say that the information it seeks is “relevant” to terrorism or intelligence probes.

From its inception, the law banned recipients of the letters from telling anyone – including their customers and apparently their lawyers – about the FBI demands.

In the 14 months after the Patriot Act’s passage, Marrero said, the FBI used the letters “hundreds” of times.

Marrero said he appreciates the government’s concerns about terrorism. But, he said, freedoms must be guarded in times of crisis. “Sometimes a right, once extinguished, may be gone for good,” Marrero said.

By walterh

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