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Judge Kicks Out Bogus ACLU Suit Against AT&T

From the heartbroken reporters at the DNC’s Associated Press:

Lawsuit to bar AT&T from giving phone records to NSA dismissed

July 25, 2006 (CHICAGO) – A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to bar AT&T from giving the government telephone records without warrants, saying it would require disclosures that would "adversely affect our national security."

Judge Matthew F. Kennelly said disclosing whether AT&T had given such records to the supersecret National Security Agency in its hunt for terrorists would violate the government’s right to keep state secrets.

"The court is persuaded that requiring AT&T to confirm or deny whether it has disclosed large quantities of telephone records to the federal government could give adversaries of this country valuable insight into the government’s intelligence activities," the 40-page opinion said.

Kennelly ruled in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on behalf of author Studs Terkel and others who claimed their rights had been violated by disclosure of the phone records to NSA.

ACLU legal director Harvey Grossman issued a statement saying the group respectfully disagrees.

"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 the public is secret," he said.

"Members of Congress publicly discussed the program of gathering data from telephone companies without lawful authorization in violation of existing federal law," Grossman said.

AT&T was the defendant, but the Justice Department stepped in, saying that the state secrets privilege could be protected only if the telephone giant were kept from saying whether it had provided the records.

Kennelly ruled in favor of the government and said that because AT&T cannot say whether it has done so, Terkel and the other plaintiffs are unable to say that their records have been turned over to the agency.

As a result, they can’t say whether their rights have been violated, Kennelly said. He said that even if AT&T acknowledged it did turn over some records, "none of the named plaintiffs would be able to establish standing because they still could not establish personal injury."

Kennelly brushed aside the ACLU argument that the records turnover has been publicly reported in the news media and thus is no longer a secret.

He said "there have been no public disclosures of the existence of AT&T’s claimed record turnover — the sole focus of the current complaint in the present case — that are sufficient to overcome the government’s assertion of the state secrets privilege."

"As the government pointed out in oral argument, it would undermine the important public policy underlying the state secrets privilege if the government’s hand could be forced by unconfirmed allegations in the press or by anonymous leakers whose disclosures have not been confirmed," he said. He said the media reports the ACLU cited were not disclosures.

"Rather, on the present record at least, these reports amount to nothing more than unconfirmed speculation about the particular activity alleged in this case," Kennelly said. He said that he could therefore not "treat them as making the alleged activities at issue public knowledge."

Kennelly noted that he had received written statements from National Intelligence Director John Negroponte and NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander in chambers with lawyers for the ACLU not allowed to be present.

The statements were designed to reinforce the government’s argument for the need for secrecy with confidential material.

Kennelly said that "this publicly issued decision is not premised in any way, shape or form on the classified materials or their contents."

But he said that he was issuing a separate memorandum discussing the points raised in the classified materials and that it, too, would have to be classified and "unavailable for inspection by the public or any of the parties or counsel in this case other than counsel for the government."

This lawsuit was a fishing expedition for the ACLU from the git-go. The ACLU should be made to pay damages.

In fact, they should probably go to Gitmo.

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, July 26th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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