Friday, October 01, 2004

The fourth amendment lives

From the Baltimore Sun (reg. req.)

Judge Victor Marrero struck down the piece of the USA Patriot Act that allowed the FBI - without judicial oversight or finding of probable cause - to order Internet-access and telephone firms to hand over customer records and never tell anyone that they had done it. Not their lawyers, not their customers, not their great-great-grandchildren 50 years from now. One such provider finally did tell a lawyer, which is how the lawsuit got filed, but hundreds of others have held their tongues, according to Judge Marrero.

If this decision stands, it could also negate the "national security letters" that also are served on banks, financial firms and credit reporting centers, as well as eternal gag orders.

These letters, a form of administrative subpoena, have been used to investigate the doings of suspected terrorists or spies, but under the 2001 Patriot Act, their use was extended to those whom the FBI believes are "relevant" to a terrorism investigation. Worded that way, in a "six degrees of separation" society knit closer by its growing electronic ties, nearly everyone could be found relevant.

This is very good news.

Text of the fourth amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

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