The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed suit against the National Security Agency—as well as President Bush, Vice President Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington, and other individuals—on behalf of AT&T customers in an effort to end ongoing government monitoring of telephone records. The lawsuit is the EFF’s latest move against what it characterizes as “unconstitutional and illegal dragnet surveillance” of American citizens, and alleges that the monitoring violates the U.S. Constitution in addition to federal privacy laws.
“Demanding personal accountability from President Bush, Vice President Cheney and others responsible for the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of ordinary Americans’ communications is the best way to guarantee that such blatantly illegal spying will not be authorized in the future,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn, in a statement. “Our lawsuit today should sound a clear warning to future occupants of the White House: if you break the law and violate Americans’ privacy, there will be consequences.”
The lawsuit seeks an injunction that would end warrentless collection of AT&T customer records and destroy data that has already been collected through the surveillance program. The suit also seeks civil damages from individuals named in the suit, which the exception of President Bush who has already been found immune from civil litigation on this matter.
The EFF already has a lawsuit pending against AT&T, brought on behalf of five customers, ofter the company’s role in supplying government agencies with customer phone records. The new lawsuit against the NSA broadens the EFF’s efforts to overturn the domestic surveillance program. The organization is also active in another case, Hepting vs. AT&T, which seeks to overturn a Congressional grant of immunity to telecom providers who turn over customer records to the federal government.
The government’s warrantless wiretapping and communications surveillance program was initiated shortly after the 9-11 attacks as part of a broader effort to detect and prevent possible future terrorist acts. However, the program—which involves “secret” government facilities installed into telecom operators data centers to monitor phone and Internet traffic—has been widely criticized as illegal and unconstitutional, as well as a violation of Americans’ civil rights.
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