Friday, September 19, 2008

RIGHTS GROUP SUING ATT ADDING ASHCROFT, GONZALES & CHENEY TO ITS LIST

Wired - The scrappy civil liberties group suing the telecom giant filed another suit -- this one against the government and top officials involved in the spying. By suing the government directly, the EFF is attempting to undermine the government's plan to use a new power handed to it by Congress in July. The so-called telecom immunity provision nearly automatically forces a judge to dismiss lawsuits against companies accused of helping the government spy -- without court approval -- on the phone and internet communications of Americans.

Thursday's potential class action suit against the government -- filed in federal district court in Northern California -- seeks a halt to the program, an accounting of who was spied on and damages for the five named plaintiffs. It also names high government officials -- in their official and personal capacities -- putting them at risk of fines they would be personally liable for.

Among those listed - former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Attorney General and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Cheney's chief of staff David Addington, along with current and former heads of intelligence agencies involved in the spying. . .

The suit argues the spying violated federal wiretap law, the First Amendment's guarantee of anonymous speech and the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches.

Others have challenged the government program directly, but no one has succeeded so far. The EFF hopes the whistle-blower evidence it has used to keep the AT&T case alive will also work to prove it has a right to sue the feds as well. . .

The suit relies heavily on company documents provided to it by former AT&T technician Mark Klein, who says the NSA controlled a secret internet spying room in an AT&T facility on Folsom Street in San Francisco.

That suit so annoyed the government that the President threatened to veto a bill expanding his ability to spy without warrants unless Congress also included retroactive legal immunity for telecoms being sued for allegedly helping the government warrantlessly spy on Americans.

After a drawn-out fight over immunity that included a threatened filibuster, the Democratically controlled Congress acceded in July to Bush's demand for immunity.

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