US seeking dismissal of surveillance suit against telecommunications giant

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice says it will ask a federal judge to dismiss a class-action suit [EFF backgrounder] launched [JURIST report] in January by the Electronic Frontier Foundation [advocacy website], a cyberspace privacy group, against telecommunications giant AT&T alleging that it violated citizens' rights to privacy as well as several federal statutes when it allowed the National Security Agency [official website] to use its infrastructure to wiretap US citizens as part of the President's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. The government is not a party to the suit, but without conceding that any of the allegations concerning its own activity are true, it nonetheless filed a Statement of Interest [PDF] Friday saying the case endangered military and governmental secrets.

EFF recently pressed for a preliminary injunction against AT&T, filing sealed evidence [EFF statement] by retired AT&T technician Mark Klein and an FCC telecom expert that it claims to show "both the technology and behavior involved in AT&T's illegal activities." Earlier this month, Klein issued a public statement [full text] in which he said:

Based on my understanding of the connections and equipment at issue, it appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the internet -- whether that be peoples' e-mail, web surfing or any other data.

Given the public debate about the constitutionality of the Bush administration's spying on U.S. citizens without obtaining a FISA warrant, I think it is critical that this information be brought out into the open, and that the American people be told the truth about the extent of the administration's warrantless surveillance practices, particularly as it relates to the internet.
A hearing on possible disclosure of the sealed evidence - including AT&T internal documents - is scheduled for June 21. Friday's government Statement said the US would move to dismiss by May 12. Also Friday, AT&T filed separate notice [PDF] that it would move to dismiss the suit against it on June 8 on grounds of lack of jurisdiction. Read the initial EFF complaint [text, PDF]. AP has more.

 

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