Long before Edward Snowden exposed the NSA's snooping, the FBI was already sending widespread "national security letters." These letters demand that companies hand over their customers' private information. The letters explain that the information is necessary to fight terrorism and foreign spies on U.S. turf.
And while that may ultimately be true, these thousands of letters side step the courts and the traditional process of securing legal search warrants.
This Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is reviewing this issue. Huge tech companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Facebook are weighing in - along with the anonymous company that first began this fight against the FBI. All of the tech giants involved agree that the letters infringe upon our right to free speech. In other words, this is just as much about our right to complain or speak out about these government requests as it is about the worry that the FBI is illegally collecting Internet data.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston already found that the letters (known as NSLs) violate the First Amendment because they forbid those who receive them from talking about them. In fact, the people or companies that receive them cannot even say if they received one or not. For example, the telecom company who originally brought this suit still cannot even announce themselves by name in this case. Even their lawyers from the civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation can't mention the name of their client.