ACLU Welcomes Proposed NSL Fix in Senate

September 25, 2007 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union today praised legislation that would fix the contentious National Security Letter (NSL) statute. The legislation, named the National Security Letter Reform Act of 2007, was introduced by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and John Sununu (R-NH). In the House, Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) have introduced their own NSL fix, H.R. 3189, also called the National Security Letters Reform Act of 2007.

Earlier this month, the ACLU won a major victory in its case challenging the NSL statute when U.S District Court Judge Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York struck down the NSL provision of the Patriot Act and ruled that its gag provision violated the First Amendment and the principle of separation of powers.

“Kudos to Senators Feingold and Sununu for introducing this important legislation,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “When our government can arbitrarily and willfully gag its citizens, we have strayed from our constitutional ideals. Bringing the NSL authority back in line with the Constitution should be a priority for Congress.”

The NSL authority, which was greatly expanded in the Patriot Act, has been a cause of concern for privacy and civil liberties advocates. In March of this year those concerns were realized with the FBI Office of the Inspector General report outlining the litany of NSL abuses since 2001. Senators Feingold and Sununu’s bill will make sure that NSLs are issued to gather information on someone with some sort of connection to a terrorist, instead of the current regime that allows the government to collect information on Americans who are not connected to any terrorist activity. The bill also takes steps to make the gag constitutional by putting the burden back on the government to show that secrecy is needed and preserves judicial oversight.

“The Inspector General’s report made painfully clear that the FBI cannot be trusted with this power,” added Fredrickson. “To ensure that Americans’ privacy and free speech rights are always protected, there must be clear oversight and strict guidelines tied to the NSL power. When it comes to gagging our citizens, the burden must always lie with the state. Congress should pass this bill swiftly and reaffirm what the courts have already ruled.”

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