A Federal Bureau of Investigation debacle that started with federal agents sending thousands of "national security letters" to banks, phone companies and others asking for customers' information has ended with a San Francisco federal judge ruling those actions unconstitutional, according to a post on The Heartland Institute's website.

Two years ago, soon after Congress passed the USA Patriot Act, the FBI issued 16,000 letters, the conservative and libertarian think tank said. The requests also demanded that bankers not make their customers aware of any information they handed over. A representative of the Electronic Frontier Foundation commented in favor of the court's decision.

"The First Amendment prevents the government from silencing people and stopping them from criticizing its use of executive surveillance power," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn, in a statement. "The NSL statute has long been a concern of many Americans, and this small step should help restore balance between liberty and security."