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Appeals Court Backs EFF Push for Telecom Lobbying Documents Disclosure

February 9, 2010

Appeals Court Backs EFF Push for Telecom Lobbying Documents Disclosure

Panel Rules Law Does Not Protect Identities of Lobbyists

San Francisco - Today a federal appeals court rejected a government claim of "lobbyist privacy" to hide the identities of individuals who pressured Congress to grant immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the government's warrantless electronic surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans. As the court observed, "There is a clear public interest in public knowledge of the methods through which well-connected corporate lobbyists wield their influence."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has been seeking records detailing the telecoms' campaign for retroactive legal immunity under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Telecom immunity was enacted as part of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.

"Today's ruling is an important one for government and corporate accountability," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "The court recognized that paid lobbyists trying to influence the government to advance their clients' interests can't hide behind privacy claims to keep their efforts secret."

This decision is the latest setback for the government in its long-running attempt to delay disclosure of the documents EFF seeks. So far, EFF has obtained thousands of pages of records through this litigation.

"AT&T, Verizon and Sprint expended millions of dollars to lobby the government and get an unconstitutional grant of retroactive immunity for their illegal spying on American citizens," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "The public deserves to know how our rights were sold out by and for telecom lobbyists."

The appeals court sent part of the case back down to the district court for further consideration, including whether disclosure of the lobbyists' identities would reveal intelligence sources and methods and whether communications between the agencies and the White House can be withheld under the presidential communications privilege or other grounds.

For the full opinion:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/foia_C0705278/opinion2909.pdf

For more on this case:
http://www.eff.org/issues/foia/cases/C-07-05278

Contacts:

Marcia Hofmann
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
marcia@eff.org

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

Nate Cardozo
Open Government Legal Fellow
Electronic Frontier Foundation
nate@eff.org

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