In court documents unsealed on Friday, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Facebook claimed that the national security letter (NSL) orders are a “prohibition on speech [that] violates the First Amendment.”

“The government has sought to participate in public debate over its use of the NSL statute,” the companies wrote in a friend-of-the-court brief. “It should not be permitted to gag those best suited to offer an informed viewpoint in that debate; the parties that have received NSLs.”

The FBI uses the letters to get information from banks, Web companies and others about their customers. Under the terms of the letters, though, companies are prevented from disclosing details about having received the request and handed over information.

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