November 17, 2006 3:31 PM PST

Judge won't halt AT&T wiretapping lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO--A federal district judge on Friday rejected the Bush administration's request to halt a lawsuit that alleges AT&T unlawfully cooperated with a broad and unconstitutional government surveillance program.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said the lawsuit could continue while a portion of it was being appealed, despite the U.S. Justice Department's arguments that further hearings and other proceedings would consequently endanger national security.

AT&T switching<br />
center in downtown San Francisco
Credit: Declan McCullagh/CNET News.com
A room in this AT&T switching
center in downtown San Francisco
is alleged to be a place where the
National Security Agency taps Internet
and telephone communications.

"I do think these are matters we can proceed on," Walker said toward the end of the status conference here, which began at 11 a.m. PST and was attended by around 50 attorneys from the government, nonprofit groups, class action law firms and major telecommunications companies.

Friday's ruling represents another preliminary victory for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed its lawsuit against AT&T in January. In its suit, the EFF charged that AT&T has opened its telecommunications facilities up to the National Security Agency and continues to "to assist the government in its secret surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans."

The ruling is also a win for attorneys in 47 other cases against numerous large telecommunications providers. The cases are in the process of being consolidated into one mammoth lawsuit in the northern district of California.

Last week, the Justice Department filed a 27-page request (click for PDF) saying at the least, the court should halt the AT&T case because any proceeding would "indirectly confirm or deny classified facts and cause harm to the national security."

In July, Walker rejected the Justice Department's attempt to have the suit against AT&T dismissed. That prompted federal prosecutors to appeal to the 9th Circuit a few days later. Along with AT&T, Verizon Communications, BellSouth and Comcast, they urged Walker to delay the case in front of him until the appeals courts reached a decision, which could take years, if it goes to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The "entire process is fraught with risk," a Justice Department attorney said Friday. Bruce Ericson, an attorney for AT&T at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, said that more proceedings would be useless because all his client could put in "a public answer" would be "a general denial."

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. Improperly-redacted documents seen by CNET News.com show that AT&T has tried to offer benign reasons for the existence of such a room. (AT&T has publicly neither confirmed nor denied cooperating with the National Security Agency.)

A second wave of suits
Another twist at Friday's status conference was what might happen if a second wave of lawsuits is added to the ones already before Judge Walker.

A handful of state utility commissioners, including Vermont and Missouri, have tried to investigate whether the telecommunications companies they regulate have illegally cooperated with the NSA.

In September, for instance, Vermont's Public Service Board said Verizon could be ordered to disclose whether it has "provided local calling records to the NSA, whether Verizon provided information to the NSA before February 2006 and the conditions under which Verizon provides others with access to its customer records." (Click for PDF)

The Bush administration has taken legal action to halt those proceedings, once again invoking its "state secrets" authority and claiming that information harmful to national security could be disclosed.

That second wave of cases "raises the same issues," a Justice Department lawyer said Friday, arguing it provided an additional reason for delay so the court wouldn't have to hear the same issues twice.

But Walker let the cases proceed, setting a December 21 date to hear additional arguments, including one from media organizations for more openness, and a second one on January 11 to return to the question of whether to postpone proceedings during the appeal.

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31 comments

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Judge won't halt
In the land of FRUIT's and NUT's, it should've been expected!!! If we intercept a call that talks about damage to the U.S.A, we should use everything in our power to protect us from Fanatics, who want to destroy us.
Posted by heritagejd (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ben Franklin
"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."

I'm not willing to give up any liberty for the sake of a little security especially when I'm not even told that I'm giving it up. America is about freedom and those so eager to give it up should go live in a country that doesn't have those freedoms. That is my simple opinion.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
RE
We shouldn't be giving such powers with zero oversight and no accountability. The president saying they're conducting the program legally just doesn't cut it, and the fact Bush thinks he can pick and choose what laws he will follow doesn't instill much confidence. That age old mantra "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" is a lie because because the government gets to says what's wrong, and they keep changing the definition. people are released from death row and prison after several years when it's found they actually did nothing wrong.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
It's Called POLICE WORK
Yes, we should try and protect ourselves from those that seek to destroy the US... however, that's what good old fashioned police work is for. You know, finding a suspect, getting a warrant, doing legal wire tapping. Aimless datamining does absolutly nothing to protect us from those fanatics by wasting time having people nit-pic through my online shopping history, emails, text messages to my significant other, and my replies to news.com.

I agree with the previous reply... I would rather have Pre 9-11 airport security and be able to surf the net without big brother tabulating what I'm doing.
Posted by cascadia4 (21 comments )
Link Flag
the only nuts are those who insist on......
Giving up liberty for some warm BS fuzzy feeling, and those who think the end justifies the means.
If you want the Gov to be your daddy go live somewhere else...we don't need you.

As always,

FookBush
Posted by FooKBush (24 comments )
Link Flag
Incredible
It's amazing that nutjobs on the far right actually think destroying our constitution is patriotic, and that wanting to protect is crazy.

If you work for George Bush or the FBI (or any other police agency), and you have any reason to suspect a phone call involves terrorism, there's a simple solution. Get a warrant. And for the people who make excuses like "There might not be enough time," well, you can do a wiretap immediately as long as you apply for the warrant within 72 hours.

Neocons and others on the far right, see this in only black-and-white terms (as with everything else). Either we ignore our constitution and do large-scale warrantless eavesdropping, and if we don't it means you don't believe in intercepting terrorist communications at all. However, current laws are more than enough for the government to fight terrorism.
Posted by jdbwar07 (150 comments )
Link Flag
Data Mining = Wire Tapping?
It seems that President Bush has authorized the NSA to tap into the "backbone" of internet/ telephone networks for the purpose of data mining. This seems to be in violation of laws regulating teleco companies from assisting in warrantless access to customer's communications. It also appears to violate FISA, as no warrants were obtained from this special court. By his own admission Bush has authorized the NSA to use electronic surveillance without FISA warrants.
The reason Bush never bothered observing the law by trying to obtain FISA warrants is obvious. What court would grant an unlimited fishing license to search all communications in the hopes of finding a few relevant terrorist related ones? Possibly the Supreme Court with fresh new "conservatives" sympathetic to government interests superseding individual liberty.
While the Bush Administration throws one disingenuous argument after another in front of this court case one issue needs to be addressed. Is data mining the equivalent of a warrantless search? The federal government is massively involved in sifting through every electronic transmission around the world in addition to compiling vast data bases of financial and other information on individuals innocent or otherwise. The names, agencies, and funding of these programs is strictly guarded and shifted around as facts come to light. What started as "Carnivore" by the FBI and later "Total Information Awareness" under General Poindexter winds up at the Dept. Defense hidden away and the funding may be off th books as well. What seems apparent is that whenever anyone tries to estimate the cost or extent of these programs and the reach they have it is always a huge underestimate. For years the NSA who's legal charter prohibits spying on Americans within our borders claimed they never crossed this line. Now it clear that that is a complete lie.
Time and again our government officials secretly expand the scope of surveillance programs on innocent Americans without public debate or input. Now it seems we have reached a tipping point. Do we just shrug and submit to an ever growing Federal Government with it's agencies reaching into every phone call, email, and bank statement because "things have changed" and we need this in our war on terror, child abuse, drugs, or fill in the blank?
I remember a time when conservatives stood for LIMITED government. Too bad there are so few around today.
Posted by zanzzz (138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Data Mining = Warrantless Search?
It seems that President Bush has authorized the NSA to tap into the "backbone" of internet/ telephone networks for the purpose of data mining. This seems to be in violation of laws regulating teleco companies from assisting in warrantless access to customer's communications. It also appears to violate FISA, as no warrants were obtained from this special court. By his own admission Bush has authorized the NSA to use electronic surveillance without FISA warrants.
The reason Bush never bothered observing the law by trying to obtain FISA warrants is obvious. What court would grant an unlimited fishing license to search all communications in the hopes of finding a few relevant terrorist related ones? Possibly the Supreme Court with fresh new "conservatives" sympathetic to government interests superseding individual liberty.
While the Bush Administration throws one disingenuous argument after another in front of this court case one issue needs to be addressed. Is data mining the equivalent of a warrantless search? The federal government is massively involved in sifting through every electronic transmission around the world in addition to compiling vast data bases of financial and other information on individuals innocent or otherwise. The names, agencies, and funding of these programs is strictly guarded and shifted around as facts come to light. What started as "Carnivore" by the FBI and later "Total Information Awareness" under General Poindexter winds up at the Dept. Defense hidden away and the funding may be off th books as well. What seems apparent is that whenever anyone tries to estimate the cost or extent of these programs and the reach they have it is always a huge underestimate. For years the NSA who's legal charter prohibits spying on Americans within our borders claimed they never crossed this line. Now it clear that that is a complete lie.
Time and again our government officials secretly expand the scope of surveillance programs on innocent Americans without public debate or input. Now it seems we have reached a tipping point. Do we just shrug and submit to an ever growing Federal Government with it's agencies reaching into every phone call, email, and bank statement because "things have changed" and we need this in our war on terror, child abuse, drugs, or fill in the blank?
I remember a time when conservatives stood for LIMITED government. Too bad there are so few around today.
Posted by zanzzz (138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
OOPS!
Oops, Gonzales and his obsequient associates, inadvertently forgot about the Telecommunications privacy act, ain't that shame!

Then again, one must not forget he also has on his head the death of innocents fitted up the corrupt and very inept Texas Legal System(the travesty of inept conviction of the innocent Tulio 42+ in 1999, from a police officer, who very deliberately knowingly and wilfully committed perjury in all cases he was involved in! , when he was then in Texas Supreme Court,is but one classical example of mismanagement under his continuing watch, along with numerous other very questionable links/connections/ decisions)

Oh well, Junior could always stack the federal court, in order to win on an appeal, it has been done before in the past!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
San Francisco "Values" at Work Here
What goes around comes around, as the saying goes. Al Qaeda is no doubt rejoicing today as it has added another sympathizer to its movement. But let's wait and see how sympathetic these liberal judges are when their home town gets bombed or attacked one day. And that day will come!
Posted by WJeansonne (480 comments )
Reply Link Flag
WJ "Spin" Some
Your use of the word "sympathizer" is questionable here, as is the
connection to Al Qaeda that you try to make. The people you
attempt to demean are the true patriots; they DEFEND American
values. The USA was founded by liberals so your sorry ass could
live there without the spectre of an oppressive government.

Have a nice day!
Posted by lesfilip (496 comments )
Link Flag
Stupidity
So protecting the constitution is treasonous?

I guess it is if you are a worthless coward who would be much happier in China or Cuba.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Link Flag
Terrorism
This is a sensitive subject and I wish to tread lightly. So I hope I say nothing disrespectful.

What I want to say is that terrorist try to spread fear and change the lives of those who they terrorize through their actions. To some extent they have been successful in doing that to many Americans. The question that has been asked of me is would I allow our government to do what they are doing know before the tragic events of September 11, 2001? My answer immediately after 9/11 was yes, but my answer today is no.

Put simply it's my belief that by giving into the fear of terrorism we are encouraging it. I don't want to see our country turned into a war zone, but I really don't want to see our country turned into a police state were we are all at the mercy of our government.

I will take freedom over security.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
Link Flag
Al Qaeda' first victory was "NOT" 9-11 It was...
The freeking patriot act and every law breaking unchecked or balanced thing our "conservative" House and Senate let that A$$ Bush do there after. Do you even realize that our Conservative republican's platform was born on the premises of taking federal government and "REDUCING IT" (we spend a billion $$$ every 8hrs and 19min) and the conservative right Christian movement was avoided as much as the Mob controlled unions of the sixties? What an abomination they have become. I would vote for the old platform, but this thing they became I'd rather put down like a lame horse.

They feel they need to micro-manage Americans lives, and have zero respect for State sovereignty, or US citizens constitutional rights.

and are raking in big money out of this war, its such a crock and our troops and citizens are suffering because of it!

Bush makes Nixon look like a saint!!

Any way Mr San Fran "Values" if you need a daddy to make you feel warm fuzzy and safe...go to a country where they aren't free...they will make your decisions for you and you wont have to be an individual and can let daddy run your life..thats as Un American as it comes but if the shoe fits....

As always,

FookBush
Posted by FooKBush (24 comments )
Link Flag
Interesting....
You say that these "liberal" judges will have their hometowns bombed. I guess now we know who to look for when it happens! You!
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
Name 1 confirmed al Qaeda cell in the US
The 9/11 conspirators don't count.

The administrations efforts rest on the idea that there's a global
terrorist network with cells and/or affiliates in the US.

I don't doubt this is possible. But the government has gotten
nearly unlimited mileage out of this apparently and surprisingly
unsupported claim.

So again, name one al Qaeda cell in the US?

For one...
Lackawana 6? No. The charges of operating as a cell or terroris
conspirators were dismissed, and they were only charged with
visiting an al Qaeda camp.

In the 80's, there were grand claims that the Soviets were
orchestrating terrorist activities around the world. That turned
out to be BS, actually based on false information planted by the
CIA.

Where's the proof of an international terrorist network beyond
the rhetoric?

I know I sound like a conspiracy-theory nut-job. But, think
about it. It's worth entertaining the idea at least for a moment
before dismissing it. It's happened before.
Posted by mgreere (332 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Are you dense?
Ok, you want a terrorist cell named? Oh, the 911 plotters dont count? Ok, so do they have to do what they did in NYC again somewhere else for you to believe they are still here?

Sorry, though I feel the random sampling of conversations may be a bit extreme, I would rather have some government agent listening to my calls than have another 911 happen.

Oh, and btw, those that quote the Ben Franklin (or misquote it really) should stop. The actual quote is:

"Those that forsake freedom for security deserve neither"

Its in reference to those American's that allowed the British soldiers to stay in their home's in order to prevent them from razing said home. It has no relation to this discussion, so for the love of God stop using it!
Posted by tanis143 (122 comments )
Link Flag
We could but we'd have to kill you
Oh.. and don't forget..it's a secret.

Also, they are protecting us for our own good even if they have to break the law and Constitution to do it. How dare you question our Masters!
Posted by Leppard (41 comments )
Link Flag
Florida bunch?
Heard of a bunch of retards in Florida, financed by FBI undercover? I wonder how this case is moving. Hope the new Congress will investigate this nonsense.
Posted by alegr (1590 comments )
Link Flag
Good
So our freedoms that millions have fought and died for are not yet dead.

Bush thinks he is above the law. If he doesn't end up in jail where he belongs, at least history will put him in his rightful place, among the traitors.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not totally Bush's fault&
If you really think that this wiretapping thing just started with Bush,
you need help. Its been happening in its current form for years
(maybe decades). Bush was just the unlucky president to have
someone leak the program during his term.
Posted by jones_8099 (177 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No doubt, but don't forget...
Bush said he authorized this particular program shortly after
9/11.

And just because it has been going on for years if not decades if
not centuries, does not mean it is any more or less
constitutional.

Secret domestic spying in the hands of well-intentioned people
for the sake of national security is a very attractive idea.

The surveillance programs seem clearly illegal, but I mean, come
on, all you have to do is tap a few digital arteries and run a few
search algorithms, and bam, tremendous bang for your buck,
and very little slips through the cracks.

But, well-intentioned or not, the Constitution does forbid search
and seizure without a warrant that is issued by a judge based on
probable cause.

Perhaps we need an actual public debate on constitutional
rights.
Posted by mgreere (332 comments )
Link Flag
Welcome to USSR
"National security" argument can become a source of endless abuse. I hope the courts will get rid of it some day. It basically allows the government or government-linked enterprises (like Lucent (? see case of underwater cable hookup)) get away with anything, by declaring it a state secret. It's very slippery slope on a way of NSA becoming KGB, and USA becoming USSR.

By the way, in USSR there was state censure (GlavLit). And a list of matters not allowed for publications was itself secret. I think Bush would love to have the same. So many times P.O'd by those pesky "liberal" journos.
Posted by alegr (1590 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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