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Privacy group takes US to court over email spying

After FoI request denied by FBI

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A privacy group is suing the US Government for information about surveillance programmes after the FBI failed to respond to a freedom of information request.

Meanwhile, a separate surveillance programme can continue while a legal challenge is processed.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is taking the Department of Justice to court because of the FBI's failure to respond to its request for information on the DCS-3000 and Red Hook surveillance systems.

The EFF believes that the DCS-3000 system is the latest version of the controversial Carnivore system which was designed to intercept and read emails. Red Hook is a system designed to perform a similar function for voice phone calls.

Though the US government always maintained that the systems were designed to read the communications of terrorists, civil liberties activists have argued that its use was not limited to that.

"Recent allegations of domestic spying by the US government already have both lawmakers and the general public up in arms," said EFF staff attorney Marcia Hofmann. "Americans have a right to know whether the FBI is using new technology to further violate their privacy. The Department of Justice needs to abide by the law and publicly release information about these surveillance tools."

In a separate case, the US government has been allowed to carry on surveillance activities on people in the US while a legal case about the activity is ongoing. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) began a law suit in January accusing the government of conducting wiretaps on phone and internet communications without the proper warrants.

The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of lawyers, academics and journalists who it said were being targeted because of their foreign contacts.

Detroit district judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled in August that the surveillance breached the constitutional rights of US residents. The programme targets the communications of people in the US with people abroad.

The Bush administration is appealing the ruling and had applied for the right to continue the surveillance while the appeal is heard. A three person federal appeals court panel has ruled that they can.

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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