A federal judge has ruled that the FBI's secret surveillance of American citizens violates the constitutional separation of powers and the right of free speech. If anything, she understated the case.
So-called national security letters are secret writs by the FBI that demand personal information about citizens as part of the federal government's war on terror. The targets need not be terrorists or terror suspects, or have criminal records. Nor must they be notified that their government is spying on them.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston of the Northern District of California ruled March 15 that such letters violate the First Amendment. In this case, she said, "John Doe" was denied the right to discuss what his government was doing to him. He also was denied due process of law -- the linchpin of the Constitution and the concept at the heart of the rule of law. The secret writs also represent a violation of privacy, an implied constitutional right.
National security letters are exempt from judicial review, because they do not depend on warrants. That's a violation of checks and balances, as the judge noted, but it is far more. Undermining judicial review attacks the essence of constitutional liberty.
Americans should be thankful for the Judge Illston's ruling. National security letters are an assault on liberty and an insult to the Constitution.