Feeds

NSA beats warrantless wiretap rap

Because it took in a nation of millions

The Power of One Infographic

A Federal judge has dismissed a complaint against the National Security Agency's (NSA) Bush-era warrantless wiretapping programme, prompting suggestions the US government is now able to mount mass surveillance operations unhindered by the courts or constitution.

Five AT&T customers sued the NSA after it emerged it had persuaded the telco to provide a wiretap in a major internet traffic exchange in San Francisco. The five claimed the programme, revealed by an AT&T whistleblower, had violated privacy laws.

Late on Thursday, Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that because the internet traffic of millions of Americans had been caught up in the dragnet, the harm alleged in the complaint was not specific to the plaintiffs, so the case should not proceed.

"The court has determined that neither group of plaintiffs/purported class representatives has alleged an injury that is sufficiently particular to those plaintiffs or to a distinct group to which those plaintiffs belong; rather, the harm alleged is a generalized grievance shared in substantially equal measure by all or a large class of citizens," wrote the Judge.

The government had also argued that the case should be dismissed because it would use its state secrets privilege to withold the necessary evidence, but the court did not rule on whether that was allowed. Barack Obama was criticised by civil liberties groups early in his presidency for authorising his attorney general to use the secrecy privilege, a tactic planned by Bush administration lawyers.

The Elecronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), whose lawyers brought the case in 2008, expressed deep disappointment.

"This ruling robs innocent telecom customers of their privacy rights without due process of law. Setting limits on Executive power is one of the most important elements of America's system of government, and judicial oversight is a critical part of that," said EFF legal director Cindy Cohn.

The group said it would appeal against the dismissal. The full ruling is here (pdf).

Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the NSA must get a warrant from a special secret court to carry out domestic wiretapping. In the wake of 9/11, however, Dick Cheney authorised it to harvest, analyse and store vast quantities of domestic communications without a FISA warrant.

Mark Klein, an AT&T engineer at the time, revealed that the San Francisco switching hub he worked at had a secret room where NSA staff operated. In 2008, FISA was altered to grant AT&T and other participating telcos immunity from court action. ®

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

More from The Register

next story
Sit back down, Julian Assange™, you're not going anywhere just yet
Swedish court refuses to withdraw arrest warrant
UK Parliament rubber-stamps EMERGENCY data grab 'n' keep bill
Just 49 MPs oppose Drip's rushed timetable
MPs wave through Blighty's 'EMERGENCY' surveillance laws
Only 49 politcos voted against DRIP bill
EU's top data cops to meet Google, Microsoft et al over 'right to be forgotten'
Plan to hammer out 'coherent' guidelines. Good luck chaps!
Delaware pair nabbed for getting saucy atop Mexican eatery
Burrito meets soft taco in alleged rooftop romp outrage
British cops cuff 660 suspected paedophiles
Arrests people allegedly accessing child abuse images online
LightSquared backer sues FCC over spectrum shindy
Why, we might as well have been buying AIR
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.