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A national security letter is a controversial legal device that allows the FBI to demand certain kinds of business records about Americans without judicial oversight. They are typically delivered to telephone companies, Internet service providers, and financial institutions. The letters have been in use since the 1980s, but their use was dramatically expanded by the Patriot Act in 2001. The Patriot Act allows the government to threaten recipients of the letters with criminal prosecution if they reveal to anyone that they have received the letters. On a few occasions, this "gag order" provision has been successfully challenged in court, but ignoring a gag order still carries legal risks.