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Warrentless wiretapping furore drags on

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A US court has dismissed a lawsuit against AT&T brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleging that the telco handed over citizen's phone records to US spy agencies without adequate authorisiation. US District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly agreed with the government’s argument that the need to protect 'state secrets' necessitated dismissing the lawsuit.

"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," Judge Kennelly ruled, AP reports.

The case, which sought class action status, was filed by the ACLU on behalf of Chicago author Studs Terkel and others who argued that their rights were violated when AT&T divulged the telephone records of its customers to the federal government. The practice of so-called warrantless wiretapping came to light after the New York Times reported that the president had authorised the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept communications inside the US.

The ACLU has issued a statement criticising the court's decision. It argues that the role of analysing phone records in the NSA's controversial domestic surveillance program has already been widely discussed and therefore can longer be sensibly classified as a secret.

The ACLU's action is only one of several lawsuits launched in the wake of reports that AT&T and other telcos turned phone records over to the National Security Administration, the US government's signals intelligence agency. The NSA's "massive and illegal program" to wiretap and data-mine Americans' communications remains the subject of an ongoing lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), for example.

In marked contrast to Kennelly's ruling on the ACLU suit, the judge considering the EFF lawsuit last week rejected government arguments that allowing the case to proceed might imperil state secrets. ®

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