In a class action suit filed Jan. 31, the Electronic Frontier Foundation accused AT&T of playing an instrumental role in "a secret and illegal government program to intercept and analyze vast quantities of Americans telephone and Internet communications."
The EFF charged that the carrier violated customers First Amendment right to free speech and Fourth Amendment right to privacy and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and also broke several wiretap and telecommunications laws.
The surveillance program, which was first revealed by The New York Times in December, was authorized by President Bush after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"But the government did not act—and is not acting—alone," the EFF alleged in the lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. "The government requires the collaboration of major telecommunications companies to implement its unprecedented and illegal domestic spying program."
Veteran telecom carrier AT&T Corp. was purchased by SBC Communications last year, and SBC subsequently changed its name to AT&T Inc. The class action lawsuit, which names both AT&T Corp. and AT&T Inc. as defendants, was filed on behalf of three California residents—a customer service manager, a retired Naval Officer and systems engineer, and a photographer and land use researcher—as well as an unnamed number of similarly situated individuals.
All three named plaintiffs have been users of AT&Ts telephone service and have made international calls.
The EFF is accusing AT&T of installing or assisting government officials in installing or using interception devices that collect the content of communications transferred through the companys facilities where they were installed.
According to the lawsuit, AT&T continues to give the government direct access to all or a substantial amount of the traffic it transmits.
In addition to collaborating on warrantless eavesdropping, according to the lawsuit AT&T also gave NSA access to several of its massive databases, in what the foundation is calling the "biggest fishing expedition ever devised."
The companys network-security database, called Aurora, stores Internet traffic collected by firewalls, routers and other technologies deployed on AT&Ts IP network and networks connected to it. The data includes personally identifiable customer information that the company acquired via its telecom service provisioning, according to the EFF.
Another AT&T database, called Hawkeye, contains the carriers call detail records, including the caller and recipient telephone numbers and time and length of calls, with data on "nearly every telephone communication carried over its domestic network since approximately 2001," the lawsuit alleges.
A third database, called Daytona, manages the network security and call detail database and can be used to search the contents of each. As an example, the EFF told the court that "a Daytona user can query the Hawkeye database for all calls made to a particular country from a specific area code during a specific month and receive information about all such calls in about one minute."
The EFF is accusing AT&T of giving the government direct access to the records stored in Hawkeye, Aurora and possibly other databases managed by Daytona. An AT&T spokesperson in Washington said the company cannot comment on matters of national security and does not comment on pending litigation.