Gwendolyn Mariano, newsfactor.com
In the latest round in the ongoing fight over a domestic-spying program, the Electronic Frontier Foundation went head to head with AT&T and the U.S. government in federal court on Friday.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker heard oral arguments in San Francisco regarding the government's motion to dismiss the EFF's class-action lawsuit against AT&T. Walker also heard AT&T's motion to dismiss the case but did not make any final ruling on whether the suit can proceed.
The nonprofit EFF, on behalf of a nationwide group of AT&T customers, first filed the suit on January 31, claiming that AT&T violated the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the National Security Agency to wiretap customer communications and spy on millions of ordinary citizens.
In Friday's hearing, AT&T asked Walker to dismiss the suit, saying that, according to law, AT&T and other corporations are exempt from civil suits that involve claims that they cooperated with government or law-enforcement agencies on matters of national security.
AT&T also said the company obeys the law and does not give out information on customers to the government or law enforcement without legal authorization.
"Ultimately, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the wrong party," executives from AT&T said in a statement. "Their issue is with the government."
Four years ago, President Bush issued an executive order that authorized the NSA to wiretap phone and e-mail communications. On Friday, the government argued that the lawsuit should be halted because state secrets might be exposed.
In the suit, the EFF claims that the NSA is using powerful computers to retrieve information on its customers via AT&T's telecommunications facilities and databases that consist of over 300 terabytes of caller information.
The EFF maintains that AT&T is involved in what the EFF says is the "largest fishing expedition ever devised." The EFF said it believes the surveillance program violates the Fourth Amendment, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Wiretap Act, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
"We have shown that AT&T is diverting traffic wholesale to the NSA," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "It is not a secret, and it is no reason to deny AT&T customers the opportunity to show the court that this dragnet surveillance program violates the law and their privacy rights."
No date has been set for Walker's ruling on whether the case will proceed.
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