June 23, 2006 5:35 PM PDT

Judge to decide on AT&T spying suit

A U.S. District Court judge must decide whether to throw out a lawsuit alleging that AT&T improperly handed over records of customer phone calls and e-mails to the federal government.

Vaughn Walker, a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, heard arguments Friday from AT&T and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the advocacy group that has accused the giant telecommunications company, in a lawsuit filed in January, of assisting the National Security Agency in warrantless electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens.

In a statement issued after the hearing before Walker, AT&T said that regardless of whether it worked with the government in this instance, it would be exempt from the lawsuit because Congress has provided immunity to companies that cooperate with the government on "critical national security issues." AT&T hasn't confirmed or denied working with the government.

The EFF calls the government surveillance the "largest fishing expedition ever devised" and contends that AT&T has violated the privacy of millions of Americans.

"The surveillance program demonstrates a massive disregard for every American's most basic privacy," said Robert Fram, one of the attorneys who argued before Walker on EFF's behalf. "The government has stepped in to prevent the evaluation of that program by contending that it involves 'state secrets,' without any reasonable justification. We need judicial supervision of this surveillance program so that we can have both security against terrorism and protection of civil liberties."

Last month, the Justice Department filed a motion to dismiss EFF's class action lawsuit against AT&T. The government asserts that the company is covered under the state secrets privilege outlined by the Supreme Court in 1953. Under the privilege, the government is allowed to thwart any lawsuit that might disclose military secrets.

The privilege was elaborated on by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case in which former workers at the Air Force's classified Groom Lake, Nev., facility alleged hazardous waste violations. When requested by the workers' lawyers to turn over information, the Air Force refused.

The 9th Circuit upheld a summary judgment on behalf of the Air Force, saying that once the state secrets "privilege is properly invoked and the court is satisfied as to the danger of divulging state secrets, the privilege is absolute" and the case will generally be dismissed.

CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.

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4 comments

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AT&T Sucks
Take a look at the AT&T / NSA documents:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://zxo.blogspot.com/2006/05/wired-publishes-att-nsa-documents.html" target="_newWindow">http://zxo.blogspot.com/2006/05/wired-publishes-att-nsa-documents.html</a>
Posted by zxocuteboy (45 comments )
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Secrets are the wages of Sin
Why can't they do a cursory check or work something out so that we know we aren't being polluted and murdered? Is this just going to go on forever like back in the nuclear testing days? If the government screws up then that's just that; they get a free pass? What happens when they have enough power to destroy the globe. As we move toward a more powerful society we must embrace more openness not less.
If we are careless with the U.S. then any other government could delete the human race in the name of State Secrets and also Trade Secrets. There are no secrets when it involves humanity.
Secrets are the wages of Sin.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
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Question for the C-Net editors
Okay, okay, everybody, quit laughing. I know, I know -- the thought of an editor from C-Net actually reading these things borders on the ludicrous. Heck, they demonstrate all the time that they don't read them. If they did, they'd never post another fearmongering "global warming" article again. The readers here, for the most part, are techies, and techies don't tend to be gullible idiots. They tend to do their homework and research. The responses to the global warming articles here prove it. Here's a rundown on their last global warming article:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.valcondria.com/rainy/text/warming.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.valcondria.com/rainy/text/warming.htm</a>

Nonetheless, here's the question I'd ask the editors if they DID actually read these things:

Go to the home page and scroll down a little bit. Over to the right you'll see some 'tabs' for various 'sideline' subjects. "Web 2.0", "Future Tech", "Politics" and "Gadgets".

The question is, why isn't this article in the "Politics" area?

The government protecting us from the next 9/11 (or much worse) isn't a "technological" issue, it's a political issue. Of course, technology is involved with modern surveillance, but, by that definition, we should be seeing lots of articles on toilets and door knobs, since technology is involved there, too.

My suggestion to C-Net is to put the political articles where they belong. Or, better yet, leave the politics to such bastions of reason and objectivity as the New York Times and get back to doing what you do best.
Posted by Joe Bolt (62 comments )
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It's not really AT&T....
..... it's SBC trying to hide behind the AT&#38;T label. So all the fraud,
confusion, bad management, and stupid decisions are still there.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
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