A federal appeals court this week will review whether the government can secretly conduct electronic surveillance on Americans without first obtaining a warrant.
The case, to be brought before a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Wednesday, could have sweeping digital-privacy implications, and it represents one of the most direct challenges to the legal authority for government spying in the post-Snowden era. Many observers expect the case to ultimately reach the Supreme Court.
At issue is whether the FBI can use so-called national security letters, or NSLs, to compel companies to hand over communications data or financial records of certain users for the purposes of a national security investigation. These letters permit the FBI to collect telephone and Internet data of suspects without court approval and they often place a gag order on companies, which prevents them from disclosing the government order.