TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: EFF Sues AT&T Over Phone Surveillance

EFF Sues AT&T Over Phone Surveillance

Matthew Fordahl (
Tue, 31 Jan 2006 20:57:01 -0600

By MATTHEW FORDAHL, AP Technology Writer

A civil liberties group sued AT&T Inc. on Tuesday for its alleged role
in helping the National Security Agency spy on the phone calls and
other communications of U.S. citizens without warrants.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San
Francisco by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, seeks to stop the
surveillance program that started shortly after the 2001 terrorist
attacks. It also seeks billions of dollars in damages.

The EFF claims the San Antonio-based telecommunications company not
only provided direct access to its network that carries voice and data
but also to its massive databases of stored telephone and Internet
records that are updated constantly.

"Our main goal is to stop this invasion of privacy, prevent it from
occurring again and make sure AT&T and all the other carriers
understand there are going to be legal and economic consequences when
they fail to follow the law," said Kevin Bankston, an EFF staff

President Bush has acknowledged authorizing the super-secret NSA to
eavesdrop on international phone calls and e-mails of people within
U.S. borders without the approval of a court, as required by existing
surveillance and wiretapping laws.

The White House has vigorously defended the program, saying the
president acted legally under the constitution and a post-Sept. 11
congressional resolution that granted him broad power to fight

Democrats and civil libertarians disagree with the program's
defenders, and it has already resulted in lawsuits against the federal
government and plans for congressional hearings.

In its lawsuit, the EFF claims AT&T violated U.S. law and the privacy
of its customers as part of the "massive and illegal program to
wiretap and data-mine Americans' communications." The group said it
identified AT&T through news reports and its own investigation.

"We are quite confident that discovery would reveal evidence proving
our allegations correct," said Kevin Bankston, an EFF staff attorney.

Michael Balmoris, an AT&T spokesman, said the company does not comment
on matters of national security or on pending litigation.

The NSA also did not immediately return a phone message seeking

The EFF lawsuit will not just be fought by AT&T but also the
government, which could seek to remove evidence that's sensitive to
national security.

"I think we are going to definitely have a fight on state-secret
issues," Bankston said. "I would also point out that the state-secret
privilege has never come up in a case where the rights of so many have
been at issue."

The lawsuit names both AT&T Inc. and its predecessor, AT&T Corp. Last
year, SBC Communications Inc. purchased AT&T Corp. and renamed itself
AT&T Inc.

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Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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