DOJ Intervention Comes Just Days Before Hearing on Sealed Evidence
San Francisco - Early Saturday morning, the United States government filed a motion to dismiss the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF's) class-action lawsuit against AT&T for illegally handing over its customers' telephone and Internet records and communications to the National Security Agency. The government claims that its legal brief and two affidavits from senior intelligence officials that accompanied the motion are classified, preventing even the parties to the lawsuit, EFF and AT&T, from seeing them.
While EFF was not permitted to see the government's entire brief, in a redacted version made publicly available the government said that the case against AT&T should be immediately terminated because any judicial inquiry into the whether AT&T broke the law could reveal state secrets and harm national security.
"The government is trying to lock out any judicial inquiry into AT&T and the NSA's illegal spying operation," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "It is illegal for major telecommunications companies to simply hand over private customer information to the government. They should not be allowed to hide their illegal activity behind government assertions of 'state secrets' to prevent the judiciary from stepping in to expose and punish the illegal behavior. If the government's motion is granted, it will have undermined the freedoms our country has fought so hard to protect."
EFF's federal lawsuit against AT&T alleges that the telecommunications company has given the NSA secret, direct access to the phone calls and emails going over its network, and has been handing over communications logs detailing the activities of millions of ordinary Americans. This week, a USA TODAY report bolstered key allegations in EFF's lawsuit, detailing how AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth provided phone call records about of tens of millions of their customers to the NSA without any legal authorization. The same week, lawyers at the Justice Department were forced to halt their probe into the DOJ's involvement in the spying program because they were refused security clearance by the NSA.
"The press has already widely reported on the illegal domestic surveillance that is the basis for our case. Allowing a court to determine whether AT&T broke the law would in no way harm national security. Indeed, our case is meant to protect Americans -- by requiring that the AT&T follow the law and protect its customers from unchecked spying into their personal communications," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston.
On Wednesday, May 17, at 10 a.m., a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco will hear oral arguments about the unsealing of critical documents in the lawsuit. The sealed evidence at issue includes a declaration by Mark Klein, a retired AT&T telecommunications technician, and several internal AT&T documents that support EFF's allegations. AT&T wants the documents returned and argues that they should not be used as evidence in the case. For more information about attending the hearing, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the redacted government motion:
For USA TODAY's story:
For more on the AT&T lawsuit:
Electronic Frontier Foundation