With telco immunity approved by Congress, Electronic Frontier Foundation opens a second front in its long-running battle with the National Security Agency over the White House's warrantless domestic spying program. The new lawsuit targets the NSA and other government agencies in addition to the individuals responsible for creating, authorizing and implementing the program, including President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
With Congress granting what amounts to retroactive immunity for telephone
companies that participated in the White House's warrantless domestic spying
program, the Electronic Frontier Foundation turned to the courts Sept. 18 to
stop the continuing surveillance of Americans' e-mails and telephone calls.
The EFF has already sued AT&T in a 2006 class action lawsuit to stop the
telecommunications giant's participation in the surveillance program. The new
legal action targets the NSA (National Security Agency) and other government
agencies in addition to the individuals responsible for creating, authorizing
and implementing the spying program, including President George W. Bush and
Vice President Dick Cheney.
Other individuals named in the lawsuit include former Attorney General and
White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Cheney's chief of staff David
"In addition to suing AT&T, we've now opened a second front in the
battle to stop the NSA's illegal surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans
and hold personally responsible those who authorized or participated in the spying
program," Kevin Bankston, EFF's senior attorney, said in a statement.
The telcos contend that they relied on existing federal, state and local
laws and assurances from the highest level of government when providing access
to consumers' personal telephone calls and e-mail without a subpoena.
"For years, the NSA has been engaged in a massive and massively illegal
fishing expedition through AT&T's domestic networks and databases of
customer records. Our goal in this new case against the government, as in our
case against AT&T, is to dismantle this dragnet surveillance program as
soon as possible," Bankston said.
The EFF's primary evidence in the new lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, relies
primarily on the same evidence as the AT&T class action lawsuit, including
whistleblower Mark Klein's disclosure of undisputed documents that AT&T has
routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San
Francisco controlled by the NSA. Klein is a former
AT&T telecommunications technician.
The AT&T case is now stalled in federal court and is expected to
continue well into 2009.
"Demanding personal accountability from President Bush, Vice President
Cheney and others responsible for the NSA's dragnet surveillance of ordinary
Americans' communications is the best way to guarantee that such blatantly
illegal spying will not be authorized in the future," said EFF Legal
Director Cindy Cohn. "Our lawsuit today should sound a clear warning to
future occupants of the White House: If you break the law and violate Americans'
privacy, there will be consequences."
In July, the U.S.
Senate voted to grant retroactive immunity to telephone companies that
participated in the White House's warrantless domestic spying program. The
69-28 vote came after the Senate defeated three amendments all aiming either to
remove or modify the immunity provision in the Foreign Intelligence
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama voted for
the three amendments to let civil lawsuits proceed against the carriers but
voted for the overall bill. Republican presidential nominee John McCain skipped
the vote. The House approved
the legislation June 20.