A federal judge in California has flatly declared that National Security Letters are unconstitutional. NSLs are some of the worst developments of the post-9/11 national security apparatus, as they allow the FBI to access records essentially on their own say-so. Not only that, they come with a buit-in prior restraint -- a recipient is prohibited from disclosing publicly even the existence of the letter. This promises to be the first step in a long fight between the Justice Departmenton one side, as they are certain to appeal today's ruling, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and this particular NSL recipient on the other. All the best of luck to the challengers - they'll need it, because the government doesn't like taking no for an answer when it comes to the scope of its power.
On the other side of the country, the D. C. Circuit ruled that the CIA, helmed by newly confirmed director John Brennan (aka Drone Master B), must make certain disclosures about its uses of unmanned aerial vehicles. This comes on the heels of last week's highly public thirteen hour real-deal filibuster by Senator Rand Paul. He's on the right side of this issue. The issues here are much the same as with the NSLs I described above -- excessive secrecy and too much power in hands that are not held nearly accountable enough. Secret law and extrajudicial killings, which under many other scenarios are termed "assassinations," are antithetical to American ideals. If the appeal holds up, it'll be interesting to see just what are the legal bases for operations like that ones that took out American born Anwar al-Awlaki and his sixteen year old son two weeks apart. That said, even if those memos do come out, I'd think they'll be heavily redacted. After all, national security is at stake -- because the government says so! For a deeper (and longer) look into the drone issue (and the security state in general), I can't recommend The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald highly enough.
After getting its rear end handed to it last month, the U.S. Attorney in Boston will not appeal its loss in the matter in U.S. v. 434 Main Street, Tewksbury, MA. Yes, that's the name of the case -- a piece of property is the defendant. This was a civil asset forfeiture matter, where something is charged with a crime, which allows property so be seized without ever having to prove it was involved in a crime, or its owners even had criminal intent. The only way you could ever make an attempt to justify something like this is if you gave the cases really cool names. Something like The People of the State of New York v. 83 Kilos of Uncut Colombian Cocaine, And We Mean The Really Good Stuff.Here's the release from the Institute for Justice, which defended Russ Caswell, who owns the motel on the property. I wonder what motivated the government not to pursue the appeal. Was the evidence so clear and convincing that the decision couldn't possibly be reversed? Or did Carmen Ortiz decide that, after practically hounding Aaron Swartz to suicide, she'd ruined enough lives for at least the first quarter of 2013?