Judge Strikes Down Portion of Patriot Act

Jeff Berg
NEW YORK — Warning that “democracy abhors undue secrecy,” a federal judge struck down a Patriot Act provision today that he referred to as “an all-encompassing prophylactic rule.”

Judge Victor Marrero of the Southern District of New York struck down Section 505 of the Patriot act, ruling that the government should not be able to request records from internet service providers and then prohibit them from speaking about it.

The code in question allowed the FBI to send National Security Letters (NSLs) to businesses requesting information and prohibiting them “from disclosing to any person that the FBI has sought or obtained access to information or records under these provision.”

“Democracy abhors undue secrecy,” wrote Marrero in his 120-page decision. “Public knowledge secures freedom.”

“An unlimited government warrant to conceal […] has no place in our open society,” Marrero wrote.

The decision called to an end a case brought by the ACLU against the Justice Department that originally had to be filed under seal so as not to violate the provisions of the offending code.

“This is a landmark victory against the Ashcroft Justice Department’s misguided attempt to intrude into the lives of innocent Americans in the name of national security,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero.

Marrero ruled that the law violated both the First Amendment’s protection against unconstitutional prior restraint and the Fourth Amendment’s protection action against unreasonable searches.

The judge also criticized the government for not providing a method of judicial review for the NSLs.

The decision is the second to strike a blow against the Bush administration’s anti-terrorist policies this summer.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that terror suspects currently in custody can use the U.S. justice system to challenge their incarceration.