The Federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that gag orders issued with warrant-like national security letters do not violate the First Amendment.
National security letters serve the same functions as a warrant but do not require judicial oversight. They are frequently used to solicit digital data from telecom companies and are frequently accompanied by nondisclosure orders barring the companies from informing customers that law enforcement has harvested their data.
Credo Mobile and Cloudflare, a cybersecurity firm, received a total of five national security letters between 2011 and 2013 and sued, arguing they had a First Amendment right to notify customers.
In 2013, District Judge Susan Illston ruled that the letters were unconstitutional, but stayed her decision and later reversed it in 2016 once lawmakers added additional civil liberties protections.
The appeals court upheld Illston's amended opinion, agreeing that civil liberties safeguards in place — including notifying recipients the letters could be challenged in court — were adequate.
"The nondisclosure requirement in the NSL law therefore does not run afoul of the First Amendment," wrote Judge Sandra Ikuta in the decision.