U.S. Appeals court upholds imposition of FBI gag order for data surveillance

An attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation disclosed that the decision to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is open and has yet to be taken.

In a ruling that has dealt a blow to privacy advocates, a U.S. federal court of appeals has upheld the non-disclosure rules that surrounds the issuance of secret surveillance orders to the FBI on customer data to communication companies.

A 3 judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has unanimously sided with a lower court’s ruling that permits the FBI to send national security letters under gag orders to communication companies; the court has ruled that such letters do not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s protection of free speech.

Cloudflare, a content distribution firm and CREDO Mobile, a phone network operator had sued the U.S government so as to notify customers of five national security letters (NSLs), received between 2011 and 2013.

The usage of NSL by the FBI has drawn increasing scrutiny in the wake of new transparency laws that allows companies to publish some of the letters, which show the agency running afoul of the rules restricting their usage.

Terming the ruling disappointing, Andrew Crocker, an attorney for Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represented the companies in the consolidated case, said the decision to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to be made.

The Justice Department declined comment.

In recent years, several major technology firms, including, Twitter and Microsoft have put up a series of legal challenges to U.S. government restrictions limiting what they can disclose, both to affected users and to the public, about the surveillance requests they receive.

NSLs are a type of government subpoena for communications data sent to service providers and usually come with a gag order and do not require a warrant.

Tens of thousands of NSLs are issued annually with some gag orders set to last indefinitely.

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