TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: AT&T Seeks Dismissal of EFF Suit

AT&T Seeks Dismissal of EFF Suit

Gwendolyn Mariano (
Wed, 28 Jun 2006 23:12:19 -0500

Gwendolyn Mariano,

In the latest round in the ongoing fight over a domestic-spying
program, the Electronic Frontier Foundation went head to head with
AT&T and the U.S. government in federal court on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker heard oral arguments in San
Francisco regarding the government's motion to dismiss the EFF's
class-action lawsuit against AT&T. Walker also heard AT&T's motion to
dismiss the case but did not make any final ruling on whether the suit
can proceed.

The nonprofit EFF, on behalf of a nationwide group of AT&T customers,
first filed the suit on January 31, claiming that AT&T violated the
law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the
National Security Agency to wiretap customer communications and spy on
millions of ordinary citizens.

'Wrong Party'

In Friday's hearing, AT&T asked Walker to dismiss the suit, saying
that, according to law, AT&T and other corporations are exempt from
civil suits that involve claims that they cooperated with government
or law-enforcement agencies on matters of national security.

AT&T also said the company obeys the law and does not give out
information on customers to the government or law enforcement without
legal authorization.

"Ultimately, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the wrong
party," executives from AT&T said in a statement. "Their issue is with
the government."

Four years ago, President Bush issued an executive order that
authorized the NSA to wiretap phone and e-mail communications. On
Friday, the government argued that the lawsuit should be halted
because state secrets might be exposed.

'Fishing Expedition'

In the suit, the EFF claims that the NSA is using powerful computers
to retrieve information on its customers via AT&T's telecommunications
facilities and databases that consist of over 300 terabytes of caller

The EFF maintains that AT&T is involved in what the EFF says is the
"largest fishing expedition ever devised." The EFF said it believes
the surveillance program violates the Fourth Amendment, the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Wiretap Act, and the Electronic
Communications Privacy Act.

"We have shown that AT&T is diverting traffic wholesale to the NSA,"
said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "It is not a secret, and it is no
reason to deny AT&T customers the opportunity to show the court that
this dragnet surveillance program violates the law and their privacy

No date has been set for Walker's ruling on whether the case will

Copyright 2006 NewsFactor Network, Inc.

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: So AT&T, very self-rightously, claims
that EFF is 'suing the wrong party' ... I do not think so! If AT&T
had taken the same stance as Qwest Communications, and refused to
cooperate without a warrant -- which the feds were unwilling to
obtain, they would not be in the mess they are in now. But, let's face
it, AT&T and its new owner Southwestern Bell, i.e. SBC have always
been in bed with the federal government; always very cozy. That's one
reason for a few years now I have refused to have any SBC/AT&T service
in my home at all. I am still dealing with them indirectly of course,
through Prairie Stream, but at least I do not have to deal with them
personally. PAT]

Date: Wed, 28 Jun 2006 23:14:14 -0500
From: Paul Blustein <>
Newsgroups: comp.dcom.telecom
Subject: Financial Search Raises Privacy Fears
Message-ID: <>
Organization: TELECOM Digest
X-Telecom-Digest: Volume 25, Issue 243, Message 3 of 11
Lines: 117

By Paul Blustein
Washington Post Staff Writer

For most Americans, the confidentiality of their bank accounts and
other financial holdings is a right to be cherished. The idea that
government agents might be secretly scrutinizing the records of
individuals arouses discomfort in people who view their wealth, income
and other financial information as nobody's business but their own.

So questions of privacy arose yesterday after revelations that the
Bush administration has been tracking clues about terrorists by
searching the records of a Belgium-based banking consortium that
handles millions of financial transactions daily across national

Bush administration officials offered extensive reasons for comfort,
noting that the newly disclosed program doesn't give them access to
most routine banking transactions and was designed to prevent
abuse. But some experts said the revelations underscore the degree to
which the government is obtaining more financial information that used
to be treated as confidential, especially since the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks. They cited, for example, the intensifying pressure on banks
to submit reports to federal agencies when their customers engage in
transactions that may be considered suspicious, such as withdrawing an
unusually large amount of cash.

"Maybe in the end, the public will be fine with it," said John
D. ReVeal, a lawyer who specializes in financial regulation at the
Washington office of Powell Goldstein LLP. "But it's always bothered
me that the public has no idea about a lot of this. People seem to
care if their bank shares information with an insurance company, for
commercial purposes. But they don't seem to mind if the bank shares
information with a government that puts people into Guantanamo without
hearings and so forth."

The administration's assurances came in briefings and interviews that
officials conducted even though they had hoped to keep the newly
disclosed program under wraps because of its value in thwarting
terrorism. They said they were forced to go public because the New
York Times had made clear that it was publishing a major story about

In the first place, the officials said, the Belgian consortium, known
by the acronym SWIFT, handles mostly transactions overseas, such as
transfers of funds from a European country to a Middle Eastern
country. And even when a transaction involves an American, a foreign
national is typically on the other side.

"As a general matter, [SWIFT's database] does not contain the type of
information on ordinary transactions that would be made by individuals
in the United States, such as deposits, withdrawals, checks, electronic
bill payments and the like," said Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the
Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Furthermore, the officials said, ever since the program was
established, the government has taken elaborate precautions to ensure
that SWIFT's data are not used for any purpose other than catching and
disrupting terrorists. Investigators must provide evidence showing
grounds for suspicion that the person whose transactions they are
examining is involved in terrorism-related activities. SWIFT auditors
may object if they view the search as unwarranted. The program even
has its own outside auditors, from Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., who
periodically review the searches to ensure that they are justified
under the guidelines, according to Levey.

"We are not permitted to browse through this data, nor can we search
it for any non-terrorism investigation," Levey said, adding that in
one case a couple of years ago, an analyst was found to be conducting
an improper search. "In my view, that shows that the audit process is
working," he said, adding that "the person who conducted that search
is no longer allowed to work on" the program.

Administration officials tacitly acknowledged that the information at
their disposal is even greater than the initial press reports about
the program indicated.

According to Treasury Secretary John W. Snow, when the administration
first requested information from SWIFT after Sept. 11, in subpoenas
that were fairly narrowly drafted , the consortium said it couldn't
comply because it didn't have the ability to extract the particular
information from its database.

"So they said, 'We'll give you all the data,' " Snow said, the idea
being that federal agents would design methods of searching it. But he
hastened to add that the data were handed over only on condition that
strict safeguards would be implemented.

Under various bank secrecy laws passed by Congress over the past 35
years, U.S. banks are forbidden to hand over information about
individual customers' accounts, unless government agents obtain a
court-authorized subpoena in the course of an investigation.

But at the same time, banks risk severe penalties if they don't comply
with federal "know your customer" requirements and fail to file
"suspicious activity reports" to the Treasury Department's Financial
Crimes Enforcement Network about their customers' out-of-the-ordinary
transactions. Since 1996, when the rules were tightened, banks have
filed more than 2 million such reports, and the pace stepped up
significantly after Sept. 11, when failure to file began resulting in
stiff fines.

"It's fair enough to say, we don't want to let the bad guys know that
we're spying on them, and disclose every detail of how that's being
done," ReVeal said. "But it's another thing to pull the wool over
Americans' eyes and not disclose what end runs around the Fourth
Amendment we may be doing."

Copyright 2006 The Washington Post Company

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