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Federal judge delays wiretapping suit pending DOJ state secrets appeal

[JURIST] US District Judge Vaughn Walker [official profile] of the Northern District of California on Tuesday temporarily stayed a class action lawsuit [EFF case backgrounder; JURIST report] brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T, pending the appeal [petition, PDF] of his earlier decision [JURIST report] allowing the case to move forward. The EFF lawsuit alleges that AT&T violated citizens' rights to privacy and several federal statutes when it allowed the NSA to use its infrastructure to wiretap US citizens as part of the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] and the US Justice Department has filed a Statement of Interest [PDF] in the case. Last week, the DOJ said it would appeal the Walker's decision [JURIST report], arguing that the lawsuit could expose state secrets and threaten national security. In July, Walker ruled [order, PDF] that the broad media coverage of the surveillance program had neutralized any danger of disclosing state secrets, and allowed the lawsuit to move forward.

Walker's ruling was the first in several federal lawsuits to go against the government's attempts to invoke the state secrets privilege for the surveillance program. In separate litigation, government attorneys have asked that twenty coordinated lawsuits [JURIST report] brought by the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] be consolidated [JURIST report] by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation [official website] so that the government can invoke the state secrets privilege and have all the cases dismissed; plaintiffs have asked to have Walker in San Francisco handle the cases. Reuters has more.

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