TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: US Steps Into Wiretap Suit Against AT&T

US Steps Into Wiretap Suit Against AT&T

John Markoff (
Thu, 4 May 2006 09:51:08 -0500


SAN FRANCISCO, April 28 - The government asked a federal judge here
Friday to dismiss a civil liberties lawsuit against the AT&T
Corporation because of a possibility that military and state secrets
would otherwise be disclosed.

The lawsuit, accusing the company of illegally collaborating with the
National Security Agency in a vast surveillance program, was filed in
February by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties

The class-action suit, which seeks an end to the collaboration it
alleges, is based in part on the testimony of Mark Klein, a retired
technician for the company who says Internet data passing through an
AT&T switching center in San Francisco is being diverted to a secret
room. There, Mr. Klein says, the security agency has installed
powerful computers to eavesdrop without warrants on the digital data
and forward the information to an undisclosed place.

The foundation has filed documents obtained by Mr. Klein that
ostensibly show detailed technical information on N.S.A. technology
used to divert Internet data. He has also said in a deposition that
employees of the agency went to the switching center to oversee
special projects.

The company has declined to address the suit publicly, saying it will
have no comment on matters of national security or customer privacy.

In its action Friday, the government filed a statement of interest
asserting military and state secret privilege in asking the judge,
Vaughn R. Walker, to dismiss the suit. Separately on Friday, AT&T also
filed two motions to dismiss.

The government's filing said the authorities "cannot disclose any
national security information that may be at issue in this case." The
document went on to say that the filing should not be construed as
either a confirmation or a denial of any of the claims made by the
civil liberties group about government surveillance activities.

Elsewhere in the document, however, the government said President Bush
had explained that after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he authorized
the security agency to intercept communications into and out of the
United States by people linked to Al Qaeda and related
organizations. The agency is ordinarily prohibited from intercepting
the telephone and digital communications of American citizens without
a warrant from a special intelligence court.

Responding to the filing, Cindy Cohn, legal director for the
Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, "We think the government's right
to conduct this program should be considered separately from the issue
of whether a telecommunications firm has the right to break the law."

The government's interest, Ms. Cohn said, is an indication that the
lawsuit is not frivolous.

The court plans to hear the various motions on May 17.

Earlier this year, the foundation asked the government to examine the
documents that the group was preparing to submit to the court related
to Mr. Klein's testimony. At the time, the government chose not to
intervene, and the documents were filed under seal.

The documents, which include affidavits, lists of equipment and
technical specifications related to tapping fiber-optic network links,
have been obtained independently by a number of news organizations.
They refer to a similar installation in an AT&T facility in Atlanta,
and Mr. Klein has said he believes there are related eavesdropping
facilities attached to AT&T centers in San Jose, Los Angeles, San
Diego and Seattle.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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