fbiwarantless12z

A federal judge has struck down a set of laws allowing the FBI to issue so-called national security letters to banks, phone companies and other businesses demanding customer information.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said the laws violate the First Amendment and the separation of powers principles and ordered the government to stop issuing the secretive letters or enforcing their gag orders, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The FBI almost always bars recipients of the letters from disclosing to anyone — including customers — that they have even received the demands, Illston said in the ruling released Friday.

The government has failed to show that the letters and the blanket non-disclosure policy “serve the compelling need of national security,” and the gag order creates “too large a danger that speech is being unnecessarily restricted,” the San Francisco-based Illston wrote.

A Department of Justice spokesman told the Journal the department was “reviewing the order.”

FBI counter-terrorism agents began issuing the letters, which don’t require a judge’s approval, after Congress passed the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.