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Iran Press TV

US appeals court to consider FBI secret spy program

Iran Press TV

Wed Oct 8, 2014 3:18PM GMT

A US federal appeals court will consider on Wednesday if the US government's secret electronic surveillance on Americans without court approval is unconstitutional.

The 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California, will hear arguments to determine if the so-called gag order that comes with the thousands of national security letters (NSL) the FBI sends each year to tech companies is a constitutional violation of free-speech rights.

The national security letters permit the FBI to collect communications data or financial records of individuals without a court warrant. The letters usually come with a gag order, which prevents the recipients from informing anyone about the government order.

The appeals court is in response to a ruling last year by a lower court that found the FBI's use of NSLs was an unconstitutional breach of free-speech rights.

Last year's ruling by US District Judge Susan Illston was over a 2011 lawsuit by an undisclosed telecommunications company in the San Francisco Bay Area that had challenged a FBI gag order.

'The government has failed to show that the letters and the blanket non-disclosure policy serve the compelling need of national security,' and the gag order creates 'too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted,' Illston wrote at the time.

The hearing on Wednesday comes one day after Twitter sued the Obama administration over restrictions it has imposed on the firm's ability to disclose the government's secret orders to hand over user data.

'It's our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users' concerns and to the statements of US government officials by providing information about the scope of US government surveillance—including what types of legal process have not been received,' wrote Ben Lee, Twitter's vice president of legal affairs, in a blog post.

Both court cases are part of an attempt by communication companies to be able to inform their users how much data they provide to US spy agencies, following disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the extent of US surveillance programs.

AHT/HRJ



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