TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: White House Wants Search Limits Overturned

White House Wants Search Limits Overturned

Lisa Minter (
Fri, 27 May 2005 21:04:13 -0500

By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer

The Bush administration asked a federal appeals court Friday to
restore its ability to compel Internet service providers to turn over
information about their customers or subscribers as part of its fight
against terrorism.

The legal filing with the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New
York comes amid a debate in Congress over renewal of the Patriot Act
and whether to expand the FBI's power to seek records without the
approval of a judge or grand jury.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero of New York last year blocked the
government from conducting secret searches of communications records,
saying the law that authorized them wrongly barred legal challenges
and imposed a gag order on affected businesses.

The ruling came in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and
an Internet access firm that received a national security letter from
the FBI demanding records. The identity of the firm remains secret.

The government was authorized to pursue communications records as part
of a 1986 law. Its powers were enhanced by the Patriot Act in 2001.

The administration said the judge's ruling was off the mark because
the company did mount a legal challenge to the demand for
records. "Yet in this very case, the recipient of the NSL did
precisely what the NSLs supposedly prevent recipients from doing," the
filing said.

The law's ban on disclosing that such a letter has been received also
is appropriate because of legitimate security concerns, the government

But ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer said the law does not contain a
provision to challenge the FBI's demand for documents. The ACLU and
the firm filed the lawsuit to challenge the law's constitutionality on
the grounds that it doesn't contain such a provision, he said.

"Most people who get NSLs don't know they can bring a challenge in
court because the statute doesn't say they can," he said. "No one has
filed a motion to quash in 20 years."

The ban on disclosure is so broad that the ACLU initially filed the
suit under seal and negotiated for weeks on a version that could be
released to the public.

Previously censored material released several months after Marrero's
ruling included innocuous material the government wanted withheld, the
ACLU said, including the phrase "national security" and this sentence
from a statement by an FBI agent: "I am a Special Agent of the Federal
Bureau of Investigation."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press

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