A federal appeals court ruling late Monday is the cause célèbre of the American Civil Liberties Union, as another provision of the Bush administration's Patriot Act falls to the judicial system.
Until the ruling, recipients of so-called "national security letters" were legally forbidden from speaking out. The letters, usually a demand for documents, or a notice that private records had been searched by government authorities, were criticized as a cover-all for FBI abuses.
"The appeals court invalidated parts of the statute that wrongly placed the burden on NSL recipients to initiate judicial review of gag orders, holding that the government has the burden to go to court and justify silencing NSL recipients," said the ACLU in a release. "The appeals court also invalidated parts of the statute that narrowly limited judicial review of the gag orders – provisions that required the courts to treat the government's claims about the need for secrecy as conclusive and required the courts to defer entirely to the executive branch."
Because of the ruling, the government will now be forced to justify individual gag orders before a court, instead of casually wielding the power of a blanket gag as the Bush administration has done since the blindingly fast passage of the Patriot Act in Oct. 2001.