The Justice Department acknowledged that it misled a federal Appeals Court during oral arguments last month in a case reviewing whether the government should be able to secretly conduct electronic surveillance of Americans without a warrant.
In a newly unsealed letter, a Justice Department lawyer told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that it spoke erroneously when describing the disclosure restrictions placed upon the FBI’s use of so-called national security letters. NSLs, as they are often referred, can compel companies to hand over communications data or financial records of certain users to authorities conducting a national security investigation.
Companies are often given an NSL with an accompanying gag order that prevents them from publicly revealing any details regarding the NSL, or disclosing that it even exists. But during arguments, government lawyers indicated to the contrary that a company could reveal that it had received a specific NSL and “discuss the quality” of it.
“That suggestion was mistaken,” wrote Justice Department lawyer Jonathan Levy. “We regret this inadvertent inaccuracy and apologize for any confusion that may have been caused.”