RealTime IT News

AT&T Says Privacy Group Suing the Wrong Party

Telecom giant AT&T  told a district judge in San Francisco today that the Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the wrong party.

Defending itself against charges brought earlier this year that it cooperated with the NSA's domestic spying program, AT&T said it called on U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to dismiss the lawsuit based on laws exempting corporations from lawsuits.

The company said those laws exempt corporations from legal action because they cooperate with the government regarding national security matters.

"Their issue is with the government," AT&T said of the complaint in a release following today's hearing.

"These provisions make it clear that, even if AT&T were acting as alleged, AT&T cannot be sued, as the real dispute is with the government," according to AT&T. The company said it, along with other businesses, received Congressional immunity to ensure cooperation with national security.

AT&T said it cannot legally comment on any allegations in the lawsuit; to do so would break the law.

Citing a great deal of speculation focusing on the AT&T actions, the company reaffirmed it does not provide customer information without legal authorization.

"We prize the trust our customers place in us and, in all instances, AT&T obeys the law."

The case proved complex and time-consuming, running almost four hours. Judge Walker heard several motions, from a request for an outright dismissal by the U.S. government on behalf of AT&T on the grounds of state secrets to a request to unseal the evidence from several media outlets, including the San Jose Mercury News and Wired.

Robert Fram, a partner with the law firm of Heller Ehrman LLP, who argued on behalf of the EFF against the motion to dismiss, said the judge kept a poker face throughout the proceedings. "It's fair to say the judge listened carefully to everyone's arguments. He's clearly studied this case a lot, and he's very up to speed on this case, but I don't think he tipped his hand," he said.

"The surveillance program demonstrates a massive disregard for every American's most basic privacy. The government has stepped in to prevent the evaluation of that program by contending that it involves 'state secrets' without any reasonable justification. We need judicial supervision of this surveillance program so that we can have both security against terrorism and protection of civil liberties," he said in a statement e-mailed to internetnews.com.

The possible outcomes range from the judge dismissing the case on the grounds of state secrets, in which case the EFF would appeal to the state Supreme Court. He could also deny the motion to reveal what evidence has been sealed. In that case, the EFF would have to figure out how to handle specific pieces of evidence.

However, Judge Walker did not say when he would rule, and Fram declined to speculate on when he might rule or in which direction he might go.