TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: New Jersey Fights Bid to Block Phone Probe

New Jersey Fights Bid to Block Phone Probe

Beth DeFalco, AP (
Mon, 11 Sep 2006 19:00:20 -0500

By BETH DeFALCO, Associated Press Writer

New Jersey has the right to obtain information about a federal
domestic surveillance program because that program is no longer a
secret, the state argued in response to federal efforts to quash its

The Justice Department wants to throw "an impenetrable cloak
insulating the federal government's domestic surveillance activities
from all judicial scrutiny," acting New Jersey Attorney General Anne
Milgram said in a statement Monday.

New Jersey prosecutors subpoenaed 10 phone companies in May because of
suspicion that state consumer protection laws may have been violated
if phone companies were turning over records to the National Security

The federal government sued the New Jersey attorney general's office
in federal court June 14, claiming compliance with the state's
subpoenas or even acknowledging the existence of such a program would
threaten national security.

The state in its response, filed late Friday, argued: "There is no
secret for the state secret privilege to protect."

The program monitors international phone calls and e-mails to or from
the United States involving people the government suspects have
terrorist links. A secret court has been set up to grant warrants for
such surveillance, but the government says it can't always wait for a
court to take action.

The federal government considers the program vital to fighting
terrorism, but critics say it unconstitutionally gathers private

Federal officials have objected to efforts by several states and civil
liberties groups to investigate or shut down the NSA program. Most
recently, it filed a lawsuit against a Connecticut state agency last
week and against Maine utility regulators last month.

The courts have been split on that argument: A judge in Chicago agreed
with the government that state secrets would be exposed if a case
there went forward there, but another judge in San Francisco said the
surveillance is already so well known that there is was no danger of
spilling secrets.

A judge in Detroit last month ordered an immediate end to the program,
saying it violates free speech and privacy rights as well as the
separation of powers, but the plaintiffs agreed to keep the ruling on
hold until the judge decides whether to issue a stay.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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