AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint Can’t Be Sued for Domestic Spying

June 5, 2009

In another move showcasing the surprising similarities between the Bush administration and the Obama administration, the government has secured dismissal of lawsuits against AT&T and others for participation in domestic spying programs.  The move was supported by both administrations, and is a loss for those who would like to expose the program.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco ruled that a law passed by Congress in July was proper in its provisions of retroactive immunity for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and other telecommunication firms which helped the U.S. government spy on its citizens.  Both the Bush and Obama administration said the telecoms were protected under "state secret privileges".  However, until the new law, Judge Walker refused to dismiss the case which has been ongoing since 2006.

Judge Walker found the law to be constitutional and threw out the case filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based free-speech advocacy group that sued on behalf of customers.  He stated, "[The new law left] no room for doubt that these cases were the intended target of the new immunity provisions.  It creates a retroactive immunity for past, completed acts committed by private parties acting in concert with governmental entities that allegedly violated constitutional rights."

Tracy Schmaler, an Obama administration Justice Department spokeswoman cheered the ruling, stating, "The court correctly held that Congress did not exceed its constitutional authority under the separation of powers doctrine or improperly usurp the authority of courts when it passed this provision."

AT&T also praised the ruling, with spokesman Walt Sharp, stating, "We are gratified by the court’s decision and we look forward to continuing our focus on serving our customers’ needs."

Cindy Cohn, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, though, is disturbed by the ruling and plans to appeal.  She states, "Our argument here is that by giving the attorney general free reign to decide whether our cases go to court, Congress has punted the hard questions to the executive branch.  All of us have a Fourth Amendment right to be free of indiscriminate searches and Congress can’t take away that right."

Over 30 lawsuits have been filed in association with the government’s domestic spying programs.

This post has been written by Jason Mick on June 4, 2009 4:18 PM couresy of dailytech.com.

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