University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name In re: National Security Letter, Under Seal v. Holder (Sealed) NS-CA-0014
Docket / Court 3:13-cv-01165-SI ( N.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) National Security
Special Collection Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- All Matters
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- Internet Metadata
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- Telephony Metadata
Case Summary
For the complete Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse collection of FISA Matters, see our special collection.

This Clearinghouse entry describes litigation between the government and the internet ... read more >
For the complete Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse collection of FISA Matters, see our special collection.

This Clearinghouse entry describes litigation between the government and the internet infrastructure company Cloudflare about National Security Letters. For a similar case involving phone company CREDO Mobile, see here (the "prior case").
This case involves a dispute over administrative subpoenas known as National Security Letters (NSLs). In 1986, Congress empowered the FBI to issue NSLs as part of authorized investigations to protect against international terrorism and clandestine intelligence activities. NSLs are directed to electronic communications service providers in order to obtain specified limited information; they are not used to obtain the content of communications. Because of national security interests, the NSL statute imposes a nondisclosure obligation on the NSL recipient. In 2006, Congress revised the nondisclosure provisions in order to avoid unnecessary disclosure restrictions: the nondisclosure requirement no longer applied automatically, and Congress provided a specific statutory mechanism for judicial review of a nondisclosure requirement itself, separate from review of the NSL. But on March 14, 2013, Judge Susan Illston of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California declared the nondisclosure provisions unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds in the prior case.

Around the same time, Cloudflare received two NSLs issued by the government under 18 U.S.C. § 2709. On March 14, 2013, it filed this petition under 18 U.S.C. § 3511 to disclose and set aside the NSLs in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The Electronic Frontier Foundation represented Cloudflare, and the case was assigned to Judge Illston. For the first three years of litigation, Cloudflare remained under a nondisclosure order and, as a result, it could not reveal its identity. Many documents in this case were partially or fully sealed; for example, we do not have access to a docket.

Although Judge Illston had found §§ 2709 and 3511 unconstitutional in the prior case, she declined to enjoin enforcement of the NSLs in this case because an appeal in the prior case was pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Instead, she reviewed Cloudflare's NSLs and determined that the government had produced enough evidence to justify enforcing the NSL on August 12, 2013. Cloudflare appealed, and the Ninth Circuit consolidated its appeal with the appeal pending in the prior case.

On December 9, 2013, the Ninth Circuit denied Cloudflare's motion to stay the district court's August 12 decision pending appeal.

While the Ninth Circuit considered these appeals, Congress passed the USA FREEDOM Act on June 2, 2015. This new law replaced the USA PATRIOT Act, which had expired the previous day. The new law was intended to remove the constitutional concerns surrounding NSL nondisclosure orders and provided an avenue for judicial review of the orders. With this in mind, the Ninth Circuit remanded the case to the district court.

On remand, the district court found, through confidential in camera briefings, that the government had met its burden to justify nondisclosure of the NSLs in this case. In the same March 29, 2016 opinion, the district court also found the revised nondisclosure requirements constitutional. The court reasoned that the revised § 2709 allowed NSL recipients to require the government to seek judicial review of nondisclosure requirements, and the revised § 3511 required courts to "rule expeditiously" when reviewing NSL nondisclosure requirements. Moreover, the government would bear the burden of proof in the subsequent proceedings and had to provide specific facts to support a claim that disclosure could cause harm. Finally, the new § 3511 allowed the FBI and courts to authorize limited disclosures, which showed that the statute was narrowly tailored. Cloudflare appealed.

While the appeal was pending, the FBI updated the NSLs' nondisclosure requirements. As a result, Cloudflare could disclose its identity. (Cloudflare could not, however, disclose the information it provided to the FBI.)

In an opinion issued on July 17, 2017, Judge Sandra S. Ikuta, joined by Judges N. Randy Smith and Mary H. Murguia, found that the revised versions of § 2709 and § 3511 were constitutional. She determined that, since nondisclosure censored speech based on content, the statute was subject to strict scrutiny. So, while national security was a concern "of the highest order," any restriction on disclosure had to be narrowly tailored for that purpose. Here, she found that the restrictions on disclosure were narrowly tailored because they granted national security officials a range of disclosure options, courts could re-tailor restrictions, and nondisclosure requirements were not indefinite. She also noted that the procedural safeguards in the judicial review process, in which the government bore the burden of proof, were enough for § 2709 not to constitute an unlawful prior restraint of speech. 863 F.3d 1110.

The Clearinghouse does not know whether Cloudflare continues to challenge any remaining aspects of the NSLs.

Jessica Kincaid - 02/08/2015
Ellen Aldin - 06/16/2020
Timothy Leake - 03/09/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Defendant-type
Law-enforcement
General
Access to lawyers or judicial system
Confidentiality
Courts
Record-keeping
Records Disclosure
Terrorism/Post 9-11 issues
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Special Case Type
Warrant or subpoena application
Defendant(s) Federal Bureau of Investigation
Plaintiff Description Telecommunication company that received National Security Letters from the FBI, later revealed to be Cloudflare
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Nondisclosure order lifted in part
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 03/14/2013
Case Ongoing No reason to think so
Case Listing NS-CA-0001 : In re National Security Letter (3 cases) (N.D. Cal.)
Additional Resources
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  In re National Security Letter 2013 (13-1165)
https://www.eff.org/cases/re-national-security-letter-2013-13-1165
Date: Apr. 4, 2017
By: Electronic Frontier Foundation
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  In re National Security Letter 2013 (13-1165)
https://www.eff.org/cases/re-national-security-letter-2013-13-1165
Date: May 1, 2013
By: Electric Frontier Foundation
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
N.D. Cal.
03/14/2013
Order Granting Order Granting Motion to Set Aside NSL Letter (930 F.Supp.2d 1064)
NS-CA-0014-0023.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
12/09/2013
Order
NS-CA-0014-0019.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
01/17/2014
Government's Opening Brief
NS-CA-0014-0018.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
02/28/2014
Appellant Under Seal's Opening Brief
NS-CA-0014-0016.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
02/28/2014
Appellee Under Seal's Answering Brief in Case No. 13-15957; Appellant Under Seal's Opening Brief in Case No. 13-16731
NS-CA-0014-0017.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
05/02/2014
Government's Answering Brief
NS-CA-0014-0009.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
05/14/2014
Order
NS-CA-0014-0007.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
05/14/2014
Government's Reply Brief
NS-CA-0014-0008.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
05/23/2014
Order
NS-CA-0014-0006.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
05/30/2014
Order
NS-CA-0014-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
06/16/2014
Appellant Under Seal's Reply Brief
NS-CA-0014-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
09/22/2014
Order
NS-CA-0014-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
11/06/2014
Letter
NS-CA-0014-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
11/12/2014
Order
NS-CA-0014-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: U.S. Court of Appeals website
U.S. Court of Appeals
09/26/2016
Brief of Amici Curiae Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression and First Amendment Scholars, In Support of the Parties Under Seal [Ct. of App. ECF# 21]
NS-CA-0014-0026.pdf | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
09/26/2016
Brief of Amicus Curiae The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Support of Appellants [Ct. of App. ECF# 26]
NS-CA-0014-0027.pdf | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
09/26/2016
Brief of Amici Curiae Five Members of Congress in Support of Petitioners-Appellants [Ct. of App. ECF# 27]
NS-CA-0014-0028.pdf | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
01/05/2017
Appellants' Reply Brief [Ct. of App. ECF# 65]
NS-CA-0014-0029.pdf | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
03/20/2017
Brief for Loretta E. Lynch [Ct. of App. ECF# 78]
NS-CA-0014-0030.pdf | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
03/20/2017
Appellants' Opening Brief [Ct. of App. ECF# 79]
NS-CA-0014-0031.pdf | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
03/20/2017
Appellants' Reply Brief [Ct. of App. ECF# 80]
NS-CA-0014-0032.pdf | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
07/17/2017
Opinion (863 F.3d 1110)
NS-CA-0014-0025.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
show all people docs
Judges Bybee, Jay S. (Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0019
Callahan, Consuelo Maria (Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0005 | NS-CA-0014-0006 | NS-CA-0014-0007
Christen, Morgan (Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0019
Hurwitz, Andrew David (Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0005 | NS-CA-0014-0006 | NS-CA-0014-0007
Ikuta, Sandra Segal (Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0001 | NS-CA-0014-0025
Illston, Susan Yvonne (N.D. Cal.) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0023
Leavy, Edward (D. Or., FISCR, Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0005 | NS-CA-0014-0006 | NS-CA-0014-0007
Murguia, Mary Helen (D. Ariz., Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0001
Silverman, Barry G. (D. Ariz., Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0019
Smith, Norman Randy (Ninth Circuit) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0001
Plaintiff's Lawyers Cardozo, Nathan (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0004 | NS-CA-0014-0016 | NS-CA-0014-0017 | NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0029 | NS-CA-0014-0031 | NS-CA-0014-0032
Cohn, Cindy A. (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0004 | NS-CA-0014-0016 | NS-CA-0014-0017 | NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0029 | NS-CA-0014-0031 | NS-CA-0014-0032
Crocker, Andrew (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0004 | NS-CA-0014-0016 | NS-CA-0014-0017 | NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0029 | NS-CA-0014-0031 | NS-CA-0014-0032
Greene, David Allen (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0004 | NS-CA-0014-0016 | NS-CA-0014-0017 | NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0029 | NS-CA-0014-0031 | NS-CA-0014-0032
Lynch, Jennifer (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0004 | NS-CA-0014-0016 | NS-CA-0014-0017 | NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0029 | NS-CA-0014-0031 | NS-CA-0014-0032
Mackey, Aaron David (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0029 | NS-CA-0014-0031 | NS-CA-0014-0032
Opsahl, Kurt Bradford (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0004 | NS-CA-0014-0016 | NS-CA-0014-0017 | NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0029 | NS-CA-0014-0031 | NS-CA-0014-0032
Tien, Lee (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0004 | NS-CA-0014-0016 | NS-CA-0014-0017 | NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0029 | NS-CA-0014-0031 | NS-CA-0014-0032
Wiebe, Richard R. (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0004 | NS-CA-0014-0016 | NS-CA-0014-0017 | NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0029 | NS-CA-0014-0031 | NS-CA-0014-0032
Zimmerman, Matthew (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0016 | NS-CA-0014-0017
Defendant's Lawyers Bressler, Steven Y. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0023
Cole, James M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0002
Delery, Stuart F. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0008 | NS-CA-0014-0009 | NS-CA-0014-0018
Letter, Douglas (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0008 | NS-CA-0014-0009 | NS-CA-0014-0018 | NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0030
Levy, Jonathan H. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0002 | NS-CA-0014-0008 | NS-CA-0014-0009 | NS-CA-0014-0018
McIntosh, Scott R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0008 | NS-CA-0014-0009 | NS-CA-0014-0018 | NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0030
Mizer, Benjamin C. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0030
Stretch, Brian (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0030
Yelin, Lewis S. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0025 | NS-CA-0014-0030
Other Lawyers Baranetsky, D. Victoria (Virginia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0027
Bloch-Wehba, Hannah (Connecticut) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0026
Brown, Bruce D. (Virginia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0027
Hofmann, Marcia (California) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0028
Langford, John (Connecticut) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0026
Leslie, Gregg P (Virginia) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0027
Manes, Jonathan (New York) show/hide docs
NS-CA-0014-0026

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