Monday, January 2, 2012

Court revives NSA dragnet surveillance case

"A federal appeals court on Thursday reinstated a closely watched lawsuit accusing the federal government of working with the nation’s largest telecommunication companies to illegally funnel Americans’ electronic communications to the National Security Agency without court warrants.
"While the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals revived the long-running case brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the three-judge panel unanimously refused to rule on the merits of the case, or whether it was true the United States breached the public’s Fourth Amendment rights by undertaking an ongoing dragnet surveillance program the EFF said commenced under the Bush administration following 9/11.
"The San Francisco-based appeals court reversed a San Francisco federal judge who tossed the case against the government nearly three years ago. US District Judge Vaughn Walker, now retired, said the lawsuit amounted to a "general grievance" from the public, and not an actionable claim...
"Writing for the majority on Thursday, Judge Margaret McKeown ruled (PDF) that the EFF’s claims "are not abstract, generalized grievances and instead meet the constitutional standing requirement of concrete injury. Although there has been considerable debate and legislative activity surrounding the surveillance program, the claims do not raise a political question nor are they inappropriate for judicial resolution."
"The EFF’s allegations are based in part on internal AT&T documents, first published by Wired, that outline a secret room in an AT&T San Francisco office that routes internet traffic to the NSA.
"Today, the 9th Circuit has given us that chance, and we look forward to proving the program is an unconstitutional and illegal violation of the rights of millions of ordinary Americans," said Cindy Cohn, the EFF’s legal director.
"But the appeals court also dealt EFF a blow.
"In a separate opinion (PDF), the judges tossed the EFF’s lawsuit against the United States' largest telecoms, including AT&T—which the EFF accused of cooperating with the government’s warrantless surveillance program.
"The appeals court sided with an act of Congress from July 2008, one voted for by then-Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, and then signed by President George W. Bush. The legislation handed the telcos retroactive immunity from being sued for allegedly participating in the surveillance program.
"That led Judge Walker to toss the case against AT&T and others. The EFF contended on appeal that the legislation, which grants the president the power to grant immunity to the telcos, was an unlawful abuse of power."

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