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Abstract

The First Amendment's prohibition on prior restraints on speech is generally understood to be near-absolute. The doctrine permits prior restraints in only a handful of circumstances, and tends to require compelling evidence of their necessity. The focus of this Article is the source of an unexpected but important challenge to this doctrine: government surveillance in the digital age. Recent litigation about the constitutionality of the Stored Communications Act (SCA) highlights that challenge. The SCA authorizes the government both to obtain a person's stored internet communications from a service provider and to seek a gag order preventing the provider from even notifying the person of that fact. Though the government did not ultimately prevail in the litigation, the case provides a renewed opportunity to consider the tension between prior restraint doctrine and the government's digital surveillance efforts.

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