University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
new search
page permalink
Case Name In re National Security Letter (3 cases) NS-CA-0001
Docket / Court 3:11-cv-02173-SI ( N.D. Cal. )
Additional Docket(s) 11-cv-2667  [ 11-2667 ]
13-mc-80089  [ 13-80089 ]
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) National Security
Case Summary
For the complete Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse collection of FISA Matters, see our special collection.
This case involves a dispute over administrative subpoenas known as National Security Letters (NSLs) ... read more >
For the complete Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse collection of FISA Matters, see our special collection.
This case involves a dispute over administrative subpoenas known as National Security Letters (NSLs). In 1986, Congress empowered the FBI to issue NSLs as part of authorized investigations to protect against international terrorism and clandestine intelligence activities. NSLs are directed to electronic communications service providers in order to obtain specified limited information; they are not used to obtain the content of communications. Because of national security interests, the NSL statute imposes a nondisclosure obligation on the NSL recipient. In 2006, Congress revised the nondisclosure provisions in order to avoid unnecessary disclosure restrictions: the nondisclosure requirement no longer applied automatically, and Congress provided a specific statutory mechanism for judicial review of a nondisclosure requirement itself, separate from review of the NSL.

In 2011, the FBI issued a National Security Letter (NSL) to an unnamed electronic communication service provider, seeking certain subscriber information. By certifying that the disclosure of the existence of the NSL may result in "a danger to the national security of the United States," the federal government could prohibit the provider from disclosing the existence of the NSL. This entry describes the lawsuits between the recipient and government that arose from this NSL and subsequent NSLs issued to the same recipient.

In early 2011, the NSL recipient filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to set aside the NSL under 18 U.S.C. § 3511. The recipient, represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that the nondisclosure provision in the NSL Statute (18 U.S.C. § 2709) violated the First Amendment. More specifically, the recipient argued that the nondisclosure provision of the statute was an unconstitutional prior restraint and content-based restriction on speech, both on its face and as applied.

The federal government opposed the petition and filed a motion to compel the recipient to comply with the NSL. The government also filed a separate lawsuit seeking a declaration that the recipient was required to comply with the NSL on June 3, 2011 (No. 11-2667). We have an incomplete docket for the government's declaratory judgment action and no docket for the original case—it's entirely under seal.

On March 14, 2013, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston granted the petition to set aside the NSL, declaring that 18 U.S.C. § 2709 on its face violated the First Amendment. She noted that § 2709 allowed the government to suppress speech without initiating prompt judicial proceedings and determined that the law was not narrowly tailored because it prevented NSL recipients from disclosing not just the content of NSLs but also their very existence. So, she enjoined the government from issuing additional NSLs or enforcing § 2709's nondisclosure provision in any case. 930 F. Supp. 2d 1064.

The government appealed, and the district court stayed proceedings during the appeal on August 7, 2013.

Despite the court's March 14 order, the government issued two new NSLs to the recipient of the original NSL. The recipient filed another lawsuit to challenge the new NSLs (No. 13-80089). On August 12, 2013, Judge Illston refused to set aside the new NSLs pending the appeal because they included procedural safeguards. For example, the FBI notified the recipient that judicial review was available and agreed to produce upon challenge evidence of a "good reason" that nondisclosure was required to protect against terrorism.

Around the same time, other electronic communication service providers began to challenge NSLs. For more information on these cases, see here.

Before the Ninth Circuit could decide the appeal in this case, Congress amended both 18 U.S.C. § 2709 and 18 U.S.C. § 3511 as part of the USA FREEDOM Act on June 2, 2015. In light of the significant changes to the statutes, the Ninth Circuit vacated Judge Illston's order and remanded the case on August 24, 2015.

On March 19, 2016, Judge Illston found that Congress's revisions cured the NSL process's constitutional defects. The revised § 2709 allowed NSL recipients to require the government to seek judicial review of nondisclosure requirements, and the revised § 3511 required courts to "rule expeditiously" when reviewing NSL nondisclosure requirements. Moreover, the government would bear the burden of proof in the subsequent proceedings and had to provide specific facts to support a claim that disclosure could cause harm. Finally, the new § 3511 allowed the FBI and courts to authorize limited disclosures, which showed that the statute was narrowly tailored.

The court then analyzed whether nondisclosure was appropriate for the challenged NSLs. It found that the government adequately supported nondisclosure in case 11-2173 but not 13-80089, and it stayed its ruling pending appeal. The government then voluntarily lifted the nondisclosure requirement in case 11-2173. As a result, the recipient was able to reveal itself as CREDO Mobile. (Information about specific customer accounts remained undisclosed in all cases.)

The Ninth Circuit (Judges Sandra S. Ikuta, N. Randy Smith, and Mary H. Murguia) affirmed the district court's decision on July 17, 2017. The court found that § 2709's nondisclosure requirement was content based, applied strict scrutiny, and upheld the restrictions because § 2709 required the government to establish a reasonable likelihood that harm would result from disclosure on a case-by-case basis. The court then questioned whether § 2709 was a prior restraint but concluded, assuming it was, that the law passed muster because it provided quick judicial review. 863 F.3d 1110.

The Clearinghouse does not know if CREDO Mobile continues to seek disclosure of those parts of the NSLs that have not already been made public.

Michael Mirdamadi - 11/11/2013
Edward Mroczkowski - 04/20/2015
John He - 03/02/2016
Anna Belkin - 11/27/2018
Timothy Leake - 03/09/2021


compress summary

- click to show/hide ALL -
Issues and Causes of Action
click to show/hide detail
Issues
Constitutional Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Defendant-type
Law-enforcement
General
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Confidentiality
Courts
Record-keeping
Records Disclosure
Terrorism/Post 9-11 issues
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Special Case Type
Warrant or subpoena application
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Department of Justice
Plaintiff Description An electronic communication service provider eventually revealed to be CREDO Mobile
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Nondisclosure order lifted in part
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 05/02/2011
Case Ongoing No reason to think so
Case Listing NS-CA-0014 : In re: National Security Letter, Under Seal v. Holder (Sealed) (N.D. Cal.)
Court Docket(s)
N.D. Cal.
10/12/2011
3:11−cv−02667
NS-CA-0001-9001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Cal.
05/02/2011
Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Petition of Plaintiff to Set Aside National Security Letter and Nondisclosure Requirement Imposed in Connection Herein
NS-CA-0001-0004.pdf | External Link | Detail
N.D. Cal.
05/02/2011
Petition of Plaintiff to Set Aside National Security Letter and Nondisclosure Requirement Imposed in Connection Therewith; Memorandum of Points and Authorities
NS-CA-0001-0005.pdf | External Link | Detail
N.D. Cal.
05/02/2011
Petition of Plaintiff to Set Aside National Security Letter and Nondisclosure Requirement Imposed in Connection Therewith; Memorandum of Points and Authorities
NS-CA-0001-0007.pdf | External Link | Detail
N.D. Cal.
06/02/2011
Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief [ECF# 1]
NS-CA-0001-0006.pdf | External Link | Detail
N.D. Cal.
07/22/2011
Memorandum in Opposition to Petition to Set Aside National Security Letter
NS-CA-0001-0003.pdf | External Link | Detail
N.D. Cal.
07/29/2011
Memorandum in Support of Motion to Compel Compliance with National Security Letter Request for Information [ECF# 9]
NS-CA-0001-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
N.D. Cal.
03/14/2013
Order Granting Motion to Set Aside NSL Letter (930 F.Supp.2d 1064)
NS-CA-0001-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | External Link | Detail
Source: Plaintiffs' counsel
N.D. Cal.
04/15/2013
Stipulation and [Proposed] Order Regarding Defendant's Responsive Pleasing - Filed Under Seal Pursuant to the Court's Order Dated July 8, 2011
NS-CA-0001-0017.pdf | Detail
Source: Bloomberg Law
N.D. Cal.
04/18/2013
First Amended Complaint
NS-CA-0001-0010.pdf | External Link | Detail
N.D. Cal.
08/07/2013
Order Granting Motion to Stay and Denying without Prejudice Motion for Judicial Review and Enforcement of National Security Letter
NS-CA-0001-0011.pdf | External Link | Detail
N.D. Cal.
08/12/2013
Order Denying Petition to Set Aside, Denying Motion to Stay and Granting Cross-Petition to Enforce
NS-CA-0001-0027.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
01/17/2014
Government's Opening Brief [Ct. of App. ECF# 29-1]
NS-CA-0001-0012.pdf | External Link | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
02/28/2014
Appellee Under Seal's Answering Brief in Case No. 13-15957; Appellant Under Seal's Opening Brief in Case No. 13-16731
NS-CA-0001-0013.pdf | External Link | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
03/31/2014
Under Seal v. Brief of Amicus Curiae Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic) in Support of Petitioner [Ct. of App. ECF# 34]
NS-CA-0001-0022.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
03/31/2014
Brief of Amici Curiae Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression and First Amendment Scholars in Support of the Parties Under Seal [Ct. of App. ECF# 35]
NS-CA-0001-0023.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
04/01/2014
Brief Amici Curiae of Experts in Computer Science and Data Science in Support of Appellant Under Seal [Ct. of App. ECF# 36-1]
NS-CA-0001-0024.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
04/07/2014
On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California [Ct. of App. ECF# 38]
NS-CA-0001-0019.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
04/09/2014
Brief Amicus Curiae of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 18 Media Organizations in Support of Petitioner-Appellant Under Seal [Ct. of App. ECF# 39-1]
NS-CA-0001-0021.pdf | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
04/14/2014
Brief of Amici Curiae Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY), Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), and Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) in Support of Petitioner [Ct. of App. ECF# 42]
NS-CA-0001-0025.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
04/14/2014
Brief of Amicus Curiae Pen American Center, Inc. in Support of Petitioner-Appellant [Ct. of App. ECF# 43]
NS-CA-0001-0029.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
11/06/2014
Letter from DOJ to 9th Circuit re: Misstatement at Oral Argument
NS-CA-0001-0008.pdf | External Link | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
02/12/2015
Fed.R.App.P. 28(j) Letter from DOJ to 9th Circuit
NS-CA-0001-0009.pdf | External Link | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
07/06/2015
Appellee/Appellant under seal's supplemental brief re: USA Freedom Act
NS-CA-0001-0014.pdf | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
07/06/2015
Government's Supplemental Brief
NS-CA-0001-0015.pdf | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
08/24/2015
Order [Ct. of App. ECF# 78-1]
NS-CA-0001-0016.pdf | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
07/17/2017
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 87-1] (863 F.3d 1110)
NS-CA-0001-0026.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Cal.
03/26/2019
Order Re; Renewed Petitioners to Set Aside National Security Letters and Motions for Preliminary Injunction and Cross-Petitions for Enforcement of National Security Letters
NS-CA-0001-0032.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Ikuta, Sandra Segal (Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0026
Illston, Susan Yvonne (N.D. Cal.) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0001 | NS-CA-0001-0011 | NS-CA-0001-0016 | NS-CA-0001-0027 | NS-CA-0001-0032 | NS-CA-0001-9001
Plaintiff's Lawyers Cohn, Cindy A. (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0004 | NS-CA-0001-0005 | NS-CA-0001-0007 | NS-CA-0001-0013 | NS-CA-0001-0014 | NS-CA-0001-0017
Davis, Edward J. (New York) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0029
Delery, Stuart F. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0010 | NS-CA-0001-0012
Dyer, Aaron S. (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0005 | NS-CA-0001-0007
Hofmann, Marcia (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0004 | NS-CA-0001-0005 | NS-CA-0001-0007 | NS-CA-0001-0017 | NS-CA-0001-0025
Koonce, Lacy H. III (New York) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0029
Steinman, Linda Jane (New York) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0029
Tien, Lee (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0004 | NS-CA-0001-0005 | NS-CA-0001-0007 | NS-CA-0001-0013 | NS-CA-0001-0014 | NS-CA-0001-0017
Zimmerman, Matthew (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0004 | NS-CA-0001-0005 | NS-CA-0001-0007 | NS-CA-0001-0013 | NS-CA-0001-0014 | NS-CA-0001-0017
Defendant's Lawyers Allen, Katherine T. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0009 | NS-CA-0001-0015
Letter, Douglas (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0012 | NS-CA-0001-0015
Levy, Jonathan H. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0008 | NS-CA-0001-0012
McIntosh, Scott R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0012 | NS-CA-0001-0015
Mizer, Benjamin C. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0015
Other Lawyers Ard, B.J. (Connecticut) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0023
Borg, Jennifer (New Jersey) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Brandi, Dianne (New York) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Bressler, Steven Y. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0002 | NS-CA-0001-0003 | NS-CA-0001-0006 | NS-CA-0001-0010 | NS-CA-0001-0017 | NS-CA-0001-9001
Brown, Bruce D. (Virginia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Burke, Thomas R. (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0029
Butler, Alan (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0022
Chadwick, James M. (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Chen, Michael (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0024
Clark, Kalea Seitz (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Ewert, Jim (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Feder, Eric Joel (New York) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0029
Ghappour, Ahmed (Texas) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Gidari, Albert (Washington) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0019
Goldberg, Andrew (New York) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Goldberg, Arthur Robert (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0002 | NS-CA-0001-0003 | NS-CA-0001-0006 | NS-CA-0001-0010 | NS-CA-0001-0017
Goldberg, Kevin M. (Virginia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Haag, Melinda (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0002 | NS-CA-0001-0003 | NS-CA-0001-0006 | NS-CA-0001-0017 | NS-CA-0001-9001
Husband, David (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0022
Kennedy, John B. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Kirby, Kathleen (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Leary, Denise (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Leslie, Gregg P (Virginia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Lewis, Greg (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Malone, Phillip R. (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0024
Manes, Jonathan (Connecticut) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0023
Matteo-Boehm, Rachel (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
McCraw, David E (New York) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
McLaughlin, James A. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Messenger, Ashley (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Miller, Eric David (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0019
Morgan-Prager, Karole (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Osterreicher, Mickey H. (New York) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Rotenberg, Marc (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0022
Scheer, Peter E. (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Schraibman, Sandra M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0003 | NS-CA-0001-0006 | NS-CA-0001-0017
Schuman, Jamie T. (Virginia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Strumwasser, Michael (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0023
Syed, Nabiha (Connecticut) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0023
Wall, Barbara W. (Virginia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0021
Warren, Emily (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0024
West, Tony (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0002 | NS-CA-0001-0003 | NS-CA-0001-0006 | NS-CA-0001-0017
Wong, Adrienna (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0023
Yu, Rachel (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0024
Zwillinger, Marc J. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0001-0019

- click to show/hide ALL -

new search
page permalink

- top of page -