Judge rejects DOJ bid to dismiss NSA wiretapping suit against telecom giant

[JURIST] A federal judge Thursday rejected [order, PDF] a US Department of Justice (DOJ) motion to dismiss [redacted brief in support of motion, PDF; JURIST report] on state secrets grounds a class action lawsuit [EFF backgrounder; JURIST report] brought against AT&T alleging that the telecommunications giant violated citizens' rights to privacy as well as several federal statutes when it allowed the National Security Agency to use its infrastructure to wiretap US citizens as part of the President's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. Although not an immediate party to the litigation, the Justice Department filed a Statement of Interest [PDF] in April. US District Judge Vaughn Walker [official profile] of the Northern District of California reasoned that the broad media coverage had neutralized any danger of disclosing state secrets. He noted that the "compromise between liberty and security remains a difficult one" and that "dismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security." Walker also dismissed an AT&T motion to dismiss the suit.

This is the first time a judge has ruled on the government's invocation of the state secrets privilege in a warrantless phone-tapping case. Earlier this year, the DOJ successfully persuaded [JURIST report] a federal judge in the el-Masri CIA rendition [JURIST news archive] case to dismiss an ACLU suit on state secrets grounds [JURIST report]. The federal government invoked the privilege [News Media & the Law commentary], established by the US Supreme Court in United States v. Reynolds [opinion text], in only four cases between 1953 and 1976. The Bush administration invoked the privilege 23 times in the four years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as at least five times in the past year. AP has more. The San Francisco Chronicle has local coverage.

 

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