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Federal judge says FBI secret national security letters seeking records are unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that secretive FBI demands for customer data from banks, phone companies and others are unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ruled Friday that so-called national security letters are unconstitutional because the FBI bars recipients from disclosing to anyone, including their customers, that they received the demands.

Illston says this gag order violates freedom of speech rights.

The San Francisco-based judge put her order on hold for 90 days so the U.S. Department of Justice can appeal.

The FBI made 16,511 national security letter requests for information regarding 7,201 people in 2011, the latest data available. The FBI uses the letters to collect unlimited kinds of sensitive, private information like financial and phone records.

The DOJ didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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