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Definition

gag order

A gag order is a stipulation that those so-ordered will not divulge information learned in a particular situation, such as a court, a public office or a corporate environment. Gag orders are often issued as terms of employment contracts, law suits and legal settlements.

Some examples of gag orders:

Police departments issue gag orders to protect the identity of victims, in particular minors, and also to keep information about ongoing investigations from becoming known when its release to the public could pose a threat to cases or the people involved.

A judge often issues a gag order to forbid anyone involved in a case from discussing it outside of the court.

A company might include gag orders in contracts associated with partnerships, employment and termination to protect trade secrets, intellectual property, sensitive information and, sometimes, the business’s reputation.

In the United States, gag orders are included with all national security letters (a type of subpoena issued by the FBI) to prevent the recipients from saying they received them.

In a settlement between parties in a legal dispute, a gag order against discussing issues related to the dispute may be part of the terms agreed upon.

Although gag clauses are often included in corporate contracts and issued by various branches of government, their terms may not be legally enforceable if they are deemed unfair or unreasonable, or if the information protected is deemed to be something that should be transparent and the organization held accountable. Whistleblower laws are designed to protect those who bring such information to public notice. 

This was last updated in September 2018

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