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Justice Department Withholds Records of Stealth Campaign to Block Surveillance Suits

PRESS RELEASE
September 27, 2007
EFF Lawsuit Demands Information About Telecom Industry Lobbying

EFF Lawsuit Demands Information About Telecom Industry Lobbying

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit against the Department of Justice (DOJ) today, demanding any records of a telecom industry lobbying campaign to block lawsuits over their compliance with illegal electronic surveillance. EFF's lawsuit comes as Congress debates letting telecommunications companies off scot-free as part of the hotly disputed "modernization" of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

EFF represents the plaintiffs in Hepting v. AT&ampT, a class-action lawsuit brought by AT&ampT customers accusing the telecommunications company of violating their rights by illegally assisting the National Security Agency in domestic surveillance. The Hepting case is just one of many suits aimed at holding telecoms responsible for knowingly violating federal privacy laws with warrantless wiretapping and the illegal transfer of vast amounts of personal data to the government.

The government has intervened and moved for dismissal of many of these lawsuits. The DOJ has also pushed for changes to federal law that would ensure the telecoms are not held responsible for their role in the warrantless surveillance. Meanwhile, the DOJ has not responded to EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to disclose records concerning any lobbying activities regarding potential immunity for the telecom industry.

"The White House is publicly calling for immunity for the telecoms, while a recent Newsweek article detailed a 'secretive lobbying campaign' to block the lawsuits," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "If there are backroom deals going on at the Department of Justice, then Americans need to know about them now, before Congress passes any law that gets the telecom companies off the hook."

The Department of Justice has already agreed that the records should be disclosed quickly because of the urgent need to inform the public about these issues. However, despite this recognition, DOJ has neither processed the FOIA requests nor told EFF when the documents might be released. EFF's suit asks for the immediate disclosure of the telecom lobbying records, including any documents concerning briefings, discussions, or other contacts DOJ officials have had with representatives of telecommunications companies. The suit also asks for records of contact between the DOJ and members of Congress about telecom immunity.

"Our lawsuit and others allege serious privacy law violations that impact millions of ordinary Americans," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "If the telecoms are seeking amnesty for their illegal activity, Americans deserve to know why and how lobbyists pressured the DOJ."

For the full complaint:
http://www.eff.org/flag/fisa_lobbying/092707_complaint.pdf

For more on our FOIA work:
http://www.eff.org/flag

Contacts:

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

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

David Sobel
Senior Counsel
Electronic Frontier Foundation
sobel@eff.org

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