U.S. District Judge Victor Marreo ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the power the FBI has to demand confidential financial records from companies that it can obtain without court approval as part of terrorism investigations.
The legislation bars companies and other recipients of these subpoenas from ever revealing that they received the FBI demand for records. Marreo held that this permanent ban was a violation of free speech rights.
In his ruling, Marreo prohibited the Department of Justice and the FBI from issuing special administrative subpoenas, known as national security letters.
Imagine if the FBI could, with only a piece of paper signed by the special agent in charge of your local FBI office, demand detailed information about your private Internet communications directly from your ISP, webmail service, or other communications provider. Imagine that it could do this:
* without court review or approval;
* without you being suspected of a crime; and
* without ever having to tell you that it happened.
Further imagine that with this piece of paper, the FBI could see a wide range of private details, including:
* your basic subscriber records, including your true identity and payment information;
* your Internet Protocol address and the IP address of every Web server you communicate with;
* the identity of anyone using a particular IP address, username, or email adress;
* the email address or username of everyone you email or IM, or who emails or IMs you;
* the time, size in bytes, and duration of each of your communications, and possibly even
* the web address of every website you visit.
Finally, imagine that the FBI could use the same piece of paper to gain access your private credit and financial information - and that your ISP, bank, and any other business from which the FBI gathers your private records is *forever* barred by law from notifying you.
Now stop imagining, and meet the NSL authorized under Section 505 of the USA PATRIOT Act.