Court rules for telecoms' role in domestic eavesdropping
A US appellate court has ruled that telecom companies have the right to legal immunity for helping the government eavesdrop on private communications. But in a separate opinion, the court also ruled that customers can sue the government for tracking e-mail and phone calls.
In mixed decisions with important implications for government spying on US citizens, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has ruled that telecommunications companies have the constitutional right to legal immunity for helping the government eavesdrop on e-mail and telephone communications.Skip to next paragraph
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But in a separate opinion, the three-judge panel also ruled Thursday that telecom customers can sue the federal government for eavesdropping on private telephone and e-mail communications.
Ruling in Jewel v. National Security Agency (a case brought by Carolyn Jewel of Petaluma, Calif.), the Ninth Circuit judges wrote: “In light of detailed allegations and claims of harm linking Jewel to the intercepted telephone, Internet and electronic communications, we conclude that Jewel's claims are not abstract, generalized grievances and instead meet the constitutional standing requirement of concrete injury.”
The case was brought on Ms. Jewel’s behalf by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, a nonprofit digital-rights advocacy and legal organization founded in 1990.
"Since the dragnet spying program first came to light, we have been fighting for the chance to have a court determine whether it is legal," EFF legal director Cindy Cohn said in a statement. "The Ninth Circuit has given us that chance, and we look forward to proving the program is an unconstitutional and illegal violation of the rights of millions of ordinary Americans."
Under the Bush administration’s Terrorist Surveillance Program, federal officials bypassed the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which required the executive branch to obtain a court-authorized warrant from a special high-security court before engaging in surveillance that might include individuals in the United States.
In January, US District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco dismissed a lawsuit seeking to hold the government accountable for secret, warrantless electronic surveillance conducted in the US for four years after the 9/11 attacks. Plaintiffs failed to offer proof that they had been targeted by the wiretap program, Judge Walker ruled. This week, the Ninth Circuit panel reversed that ruling.