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EFF Challenges Constitutionality of Telecom Immunity in Federal Court

Unconstitutional Law Cannot Shut Courthouse Door on Americans' Privacy Claims
PRESS RELEASE
October 17, 2008
Unconstitutional Law Cannot Shut Courthouse Door on Americans' Privacy Claims

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Thursday challenged the constitutionality of a law aimed at granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the president's illegal domestic wiretapping program.

In a brief filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, EFF argues that the flawed FISA Amendments Act (FAA) violates the federal government's separation of powers as established in the Constitution and robs innocent telecom customers of their rights without due process of law. Signed into law earlier this year, the FAA allows for the dismissal of the lawsuits over the telecoms' participation in the warrantless surveillance program if the government secretly certifies to the court that either the surveillance did not occur, was legal, or was authorized by the president. Attorney General Michael Mukasey filed that classified certification with the court last month.

"The immunity law puts the fox in charge of the hen house, letting the Attorney General decide whether or not telecoms like AT&T can be sued for participating in the government's illegal warrantless surveillance," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "In our constitutional system, it is the judiciary's role as a co-equal branch of government to determine the scope of the surveillance and rule on whether it is legal, not the executive's. The Attorney General should not be allowed to unconstitutionally play judge and jury in these cases, which affect the privacy of millions of Americans."

In the public version of his certification to the court, Attorney General Mukasey asserted that the government had no "content-dragnet" program that searched for keywords in the body of communications. However, the government did not deny the dragnet acquisition of the content of communications. In support of its opposition, EFF provided the court with a summary of thousands of pages of documents demonstrating the broad dragnet surveillance of millions of innocent Americans' communications. Eight volumes of exhibits accompanied the detailed summary, including eyewitness accounts and testimony under oath.

"We have overwhelming record evidence that the domestic spying program is operating far outside the bounds of the law," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "Intelligence agencies, telecoms, and the Administration want to sweep this case under the rug, but the Constitution won't permit it."

EFF is representing the plaintiffs in Hepting v. AT&T, a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of millions of AT&T customers whose private domestic communications and communications records were illegally handed over to the National Security Agency (NSA). EFF has been appointed co-coordinating counsel along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for all 47 of the outstanding lawsuits concerning the government's warrantless surveillance program.

The constitutional challenge is set to be heard on December 2.

For the full brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/att/immunityoppocorrected.pdf

For the summary of evidence:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/att/section1006summary101608_0.pdf

For more on the NSA spying:
http://www.eff.org/issues/nsa-spying

Contacts:

Kevin Bankston
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
bankston@eff.org

Kurt Opsahl
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
kurt@eff.org

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