A federal judge halted on Tuesday a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of several prominent Chicago residents, agreeing with the government that going ahead could jeopardize national security.
The lawsuit claimed that AT&T cooperated with the National Security Agency to violate the rights of the plaintiffs by wiretapping phone calls and Internet communications, under the guise of the Bush Administration's "terrorist surveillance program." outcome is typical of previous court cases in which the government exercised the state secrets privilege, a common law doctrine that protects sensitive national-security information from the judicial discovery process. The recent ruling by a federal judge in California to allow that civil lawsuit against AT&T to go ahead marks an exception, not the rule.
In the Chicago case, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly agreed that the necessity of protecting the details of the nation's terrorism programs outweighed the claims of author Studs Terkel and other Chicagoans who were plaintiffs in the case. The ACLU unsurprisingly disagreed with the ruling.
"A private company, AT&T, should not be able to escape accountability for violating a federal statute and the privacy of their customers on the basis that a program widely discussed in public is secret," Harvey Grossman, legal director for the Illinois chapter of the ACLU, said in a statement. "Members of Congress publicly discussed the program of gathering data from telephone companies without lawful authorization in violation of existing federal law."
The NSA's surveillance program first came to light in December after the New York Times published two articles on the program. In January, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suits against AT&T and the government over the allegedly illegal and broad spying of ordinary American citizens, now thought to be broader than was originally reported.
Posted by: Robert Lemos