AT&T sued over NSA spy program

AT&T has been named a defendant in a class action lawsuit that claims the telecommunications company illegally cooperated with the National Security Agency's secret eavesdropping program.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in San Francisco's federal district court, charges that AT&T has opened its telecommunications facilities up to the NSA and continues to "to assist the government in its secret surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed the suit, says AT&T's alleged cooperation violates free speech and privacy rights found in the U.S. Constitution and also contravenes federal wiretapping law, which prohibits electronic surveillance "except as authorized by statute."

Kevin Bankston, an EFF staff attorney, said he anticipates that the Bush administration will intervene in the case on behalf of AT&T. "We are definitely going to have a fight with the government and AT&T," he said.

AT&T said Tuesday that it needed to review the complaint before it could respond. But AT&T spokesman Dave Pacholczyk told CNET last week in response to a query about NSA cooperation: "We don't comment on matters of national security."

A Los Angeles Times article dated Dec. 26 quoted an unnamed source as saying the NSA has a "direct hookup" into an AT&T database that stores information about all domestic phone calls, including how long they lasted.

If the Bush administration does intervene, EFF could have a formidable hurdle to overcome: the so-called "state secrets" doctrine.

The state secrets privilege, outlined by the Supreme Court in a 1953 case, permits the government to derail a lawsuit that might otherwise lead to the disclosure of military secrets.

In 1998, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals elaborated on the state secret privilege in a case where former workers at the Air Force's classified Groom Lake, Nev., facility alleged hazardous waste violations. When requested by the workers' lawyers to turn over information, the Air Force refused.

The 9th Circuit upheld a summary judgment on behalf of the Air Force, saying that once the state secrets "privilege is properly invoked and the court is satisfied as to the danger of divulging state secrets, the privilege is absolute" and the case will generally be dismissed.

The Bush administration also is defending a related lawsuit filed earlier this month by the American Civil Liberties Union, that says the surveillance was unconstitutional and illegal.

AT&T has 30 days to file a response, which could include a request that the case be dismissed or a motion for summary judgment.

CNET's Anne Broache contributed to this report

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Add a Comment (Log in or register) 20 comments (Page 1 of 1)
by anarchyreigns January 31, 2006 3:26 PM PST
Reply to this comment
EFF is with the terrorists
by fafafooey January 31, 2006 6:43 PM PST
EFF's lawyer's fighting Al Qaeda's battle in the courtroom....
Reply to this comment View all 4 replies
by Darwin Hall February 1, 2006 9:57 AM PST
attacked my country, but Americans (Bush, Cheney) are revoking
the principals of my country. Congratulations Saddam, killing you
may be a guilty pleasure, but in your anti-Islamic fanaticism you
have hurt my country in ways you could never have imagined.
Reply to this comment
by Heather Scott February 1, 2006 11:52 AM PST
Just called and cancled both my home and business services. I will
not support a company that is anti-American. Take your $$
elsewhere! It's the only thing they understand.
Reply to this comment
Bush is the world's biggest terrorist since Adolph Hitler
by Steve Meiers February 7, 2006 9:44 AM PST
This administration is not satisfied driving the military industrial complex to new record profits, but it is further determined to desimate human rights wherever they are, including and especially right here at home in the USA. He is fully out of control and it's time for the Congress to not only impeach him but toprosecute and punish him for war crimes, lying to and deceiving the American people and Congress and for putting our soldiers in harms way. Furhtermore, he is also guilty of sabotaging US relations throughout the world and negating the sacrifices of the millions who died fighting oppression in WWII. His regime's time has come to pay for their abuses.
Reply to this comment View all 2 replies
by cnetfankelly May 11, 2006 12:12 PM PDT
Imagine this scenario... being in a lawsuit with this company and trying to get some help with harrasment related issues and misuse of the spy program for about 23 months now. How does the goverment plan on dealing with these kind of problems? Corporate America has no business in National Security.
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