Feeds

NSA beats warrantless wiretap rap

Because it took in a nation of millions

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

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. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
The police are WRONG: Watching YouTube videos is NOT illegal
And our man Corfield is pretty bloody cross about it
China hopes home-grown OS will oust Microsoft
Doesn't much like Apple or Google, either
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Fast And Furious 6 cammer thrown in slammer for nearly three years
Man jailed for dodgy cinema recording of Hollywood movie
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Don't even THINK about copyright violation, says Indian state
Pre-emptive arrest for pirates in Karnataka
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?