August 22, 2006 1:48 PM PDT

AT&T says cooperation with NSA could be legal

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.

ASPEN, Colo.--An AT&T executive on Tuesday offered a glimpse into how a company could be required to cooperate with a federal entity such as the National Security Agency.

James Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs, said there are "very specific federal statutes that prescribe means, in black and white law, for provision of information to the government under certain circumstances."

"We have stringently complied with those laws," Cicconi said (MP3). "It's pretty obvious, you know, as far as the court case is going, that they've not reached a different conclusion."

AT&T has neither confirmed nor denied that it has cooperated with the NSA.

cicconi
James Cicconi
AT&T lobbyist

That's a slightly more detailed explanation than AT&T has publicly offered so far. In February, AT&T declined to answer related questions from CNET News.com. In May, an AT&T spokesman told News.com: "Without commenting on or confirming the existence of the program, we can say that when the government asks for our help in protecting national security, and the request is within the law, we will provide that assistance."

Because Cicconi was AT&T's general counsel before the merger with SBC Communications, he would have been responsible for reviewing the legality of cooperating with the NSA. A longtime Republican, Cicconi worked as deputy chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush and as an assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He's recently served as co-chairman of Progress for America, a prominent group devoted to electing Republican politicians.

Cicconi's remarks--in response to a question at the Progress and Freedom Foundation's annual summit here--seem to indicate that AT&T received formal authorization from the U.S. Department of Justice to authorize the program. The existence of such a letter has never been confirmed.

Cicconi may have been referring to an obscure section of federal law, 18 U.S.C. 2511, which permits a telecommunications company to provide "information" and "facilities" to the federal government as long as the attorney general authorizes it. The authorization must come in the form of "certification in writing by...the Attorney General of the United States that no warrant or court order is required by law."

If a letter of certification exists, AT&T could be off the hook in its lawsuits. Federal law says that a "good faith" reliance on a letter of certification "is a complete defense to any civil or criminal" lawsuit, including one brought against the company by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (Other officials, including the deputy attorney general and state attorneys general, also are authorized to write these letters.)

In its class action lawsuit filed in January, the EFF alleged that AT&T violated federal wiretapping laws by cooperating with the NSA.

After EFF's lawsuit was filed, reports of a secret room in an AT&T building in San Francisco surfaced and have become central to the nonprofit group's litigation. A former AT&T employee, Mark Klein, has released documents alleging the company spliced its fiber optic cables and ran a duplicate set of cables to Room 641A at its 611 Folsom St. building. Redacted documents show that AT&T has tried to offer benign reasons for the existence of such a room.

 
Correction: An earlier version of this story misrepresented AT&T's public statements with regard to an NSA spying program.

See more CNET content tagged:
NSA, AT&T Corp., certification, cooperation, existence

11 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Most interesting
Most interesting, obviously, the obsequient legal eagles, deliberately chose with very selective memories, to forget to read either about "1968 Spy Act" , the "1986 Data Telecomunication Privacy Act" and the 4th Amendment as well, in their rush to obey dear leaders illogical requests, for why did the man from 'QWEST' say no!

The recent Federal Court judgement handed down, said they have broken assorted Federal Laws, so this only the spin doctors, operating in damage control mode, with more rubbish than a New York Garbage Scow, to defend the indefensible!

Oh well, it does prove, that we live in an age when propaganda rules though!

Ah, to be afraid of the imaginary demons, now that is not logical, in a world driven by numbers!

Law speak, a truly illogical subset of the english language!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Law Says....
The authorization must come in the form of "certification in writing by...the Attorney General of the United States that no warrant or court order is required by law".....

IN WRITING

No Letter, your guilty of breaking the law.

Lawless people will support lawlessness,and too many Americans are willing to look the other way and excuse lawlessness when they feel that somehow it will benefit them.

Many Americans, who cite the Rule of Law, believe like Mr. Bush does, that there are those times when you have to ignore or work around the Law.

Many Republicans believe that this happens to be one of those times, and as a result, in spite of all that is wrong with the 'so-called war on terrorism', done mostly by attacking and occupying the sovereign nation of Iraq, then it is okay to disregard the rule of both domestic and international law.

I suspect that these salacious and duplicitous people, also cheat on their taxes!

Where Mr. Cicconi, is that letter, authorizing you and your company to wiretap the american people and help out the government, who themselves "decided" to step around the law? Unconstitutional? You betcha!

IF (and this is a very loud word) a letter of certification exists, AT&T could be off the hook in its lawsuits. Federal law says that a "good faith" reliance on a letter of certification "is a complete defense to any civil or criminal" lawsuit, including one brought against the company by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Where is your letter AT & T? If your legal like you say you are, produce it.
Posted by Eskiegirl302 (82 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The keyword is "good faith"
The law says "in good faith". It doesn't say that AG may invalidate a particular law. If ATT knew that this was illegal and got a letter from AG to protect their butt, this is NOT in "good faith".
Posted by alegr (1590 comments )
Link Flag
if it exists?
I'm sure they are writing it as we speak! Government is the people, when it thinks it is bigger it should fear them.
Posted by FooKBush (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oh, Come On!
"James Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs"

Also a conservative republican, former deputy chief of staff for Bush Sr, former assistant to Reagan, and currently co-chair of a group devoted to electing republican politicians.

Given that he has all of that saying he's NOT an impartial source of information (nor was he an impartial decision maker when the decision to support NSA wiretapping was made), the least this fellow should have done in his most recent remarks is:

1. Cite the specific law. Why say it exists, but then let us speculate which one?

2. If the law requires a letter, provide a copy of the letter. If it's classified, say that it exists, but you're not free to disclose it.

Failing to do both of the above makes Cicconi's remarks highly suspect.

mark d.
CMSgt, USAF, Retired
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Previous comments.
The previous comments on this article are genuinely hilarious! As if
the ruling of an extreme left-wing federal judge is the last word.
Whatever. As if at&t and the federal government are the least bit
concerned about this. Whatever.

Face it. This is all about hatred of George Bush. Period.
Posted by lkrupp (1608 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I can't speak for
others, but your conclusion is RIGHT on target for me. I do dislike
GWB, and I feel that I am justifed. First I did not vote for him. The
reason I feel he deserves to be reviled is his ABUSES of his office,
his utter lack of respect for the US constitution, and his
unwarrented and aggressive foreign policy (read war on....).
However, I respect that he is currently the president, and
commander in cheif. This is America and (for now) I can speak my
mind about my elected officials, and vote my concience.
Thanks, rebuttal?
Posted by robot999 (109 comments )
Link Flag
Thats OK AT&T
You do and say what you want. You will anyway.
We don't want to do business with you anymore!
Actually I dropped you a long time ago when I learned how you where hugely involved with the PORN business.
Posted by Ted Miller (305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
BOYCOTT
AT&T!!! I would drop them also if I had their service. Even if it cost
me some green. But as you, I dropped them long ago because
their service $UCK$.
Posted by robot999 (109 comments )
Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.