TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: EFF Sues AT&T Over Phone Surveillance

Re: EFF Sues AT&T Over Phone Surveillance
2 Feb 2006 11:55:08 -0800

Matthew Fordahl wrote:

> A civil liberties group sued AT&T Inc. on Tuesday for its alleged role
> in helping the National Security Agency spy on the phone calls and
> other communications of U.S. citizens without warrants.

I am very sensitive to privacy issues. However, this particular case
isn't so easy. Clearly, part of it is motivated by politics, that is,
people are upset because they don't like Bush in general, not because
of the specific issue involved and I don't like that.

As the "moral principle", this country was attacked in an act of war
and clearly the govt has the duty and responsibility to take defensive
measures against a further attack. Spying on the enemy and possibly
traitors within this country is a classic activity in time of war.

IMHO, part of the issue here is what was done with the information
gained. If they turned it over to prosecutors for other routine
crimes (ie tax evasion, drug running, import laws), I would object
since normal domestic search warrants were not obtained. But AFAIK
that was not done.

> It also seeks billions of dollars in damages.

"Damages" means the plaintiff suffered a monetary loss in some way as
a result of the defendant's action. Unless the govt utilized the
gleaned information against someone, I'm not sure there was any loss
suffered. I am also very hesitant about the class action status, I
believe that is overused.

> "Our main goal is to stop this invasion of privacy, prevent it from
> occurring again and make sure AT&T and all the other carriers
> understand there are going to be legal and economic consequences when
> they fail to follow the law," said Kevin Bankston, an EFF staff
> attorney.

Did the EFF sue all other carriers as well? Activist groups like to
pick on the big guys, but that is not fair. If EFF has a true case
against the carriers, it has a responsibility to sue every carrier.

> The White House has vigorously defended the program, saying the
> president acted legally under the constitution and a post-Sept. 11
> congressional resolution that granted him broad power to fight
> terrorism.

I am not in a position to say if the White House was right or wrong in
this action.

However, it would appear that it is unfair to order the carriers to
make that decision either. I can't help but wonder that the carriers
received what appeared to be legitimate official wiretap requests and
they complied accordingly. I'm pretty sure if some unknown Fed agent
showed up with a wiretap demand without documentation he wouldn't get
very far. However, I suspect this came through normal channels that
the carriers were used to working with, and thus they had no reason to
suspect there may have been a question on them.

> "We are quite confident that discovery would reveal evidence proving
> our allegations correct," said Kevin Bankston, an EFF staff attorney.

That's very nice, but "discovery" is an expensive time consuming
process. Who's gonna pay for AT&T's cost? We are!

> "I think we are going to definitely have a fight on state-secret
> issues," Bankston said. "I would also point out that the state-secret
> privilege has never come up in a case where the rights of so many have
> been at issue."

Censorship of civilian activities was a major activity in WW II. Even
back then it was not particularly appreciated, but it was done.

As mentioned, I strongly believe in privacy and normally support EFF
efforts. But I'm not so sure on this particular case and I wonder if
it's grandstanding. I can think of a great many other privacy issues
EFF ought to be concerned about, although they're not very glamorous
or headline making.

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