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Judge won't halt AT&T wiretapping lawsuit
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Mon, 20 Nov 2006 07:02:10 -0500
Begin forwarded message:
From: EEkid () aol com
Date: November 19, 2006 8:40:20 PM EST
To: dave () farber net
Subject: Judge won't halt AT&T wiretapping lawsuit
Judge won't halt AT&T wiretapping lawsuit
By Declan McCullagh, CNET News.com
Published on ZDNet News: November 17, 2006, 3:31 PM PT
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
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.
"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
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
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
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
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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- Judge won't halt AT&T wiretapping lawsuit David Farber (Nov 20)