AT&T sued over NSA eavesdropping
January 31, 2006
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T Tuesday, accusing the telecom giant of violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its massive program to wiretap and data-mine Americans' communications.
The NSA program came to light in December, when the New York Times reported that the president had authorized the agency to intercept telephone and Internet communications inside the United States without the authorization of any court. Over the ensuing weeks, it became clear that the NSA program has been intercepting and analyzing millions of Americans' communications, with the help of the country's largest phone and Internet companies.
Reporting has also indicated that those same companies—and AT&T specifically—have given the NSA direct access to their vast databases of communications records, including information about whom their customers have phoned or emailed with in the past.
In the lawsuit, EFF alleges that AT&T, in addition to allowing the NSA direct access to the phone and Internet communications passing over its network, has given the government unfettered access to its over 312 terabyte "Hawkeye" database, detailing nearly every telephone communication on AT&T's domestic network since 2001, according to the complaint. The suit also alleges that AT&T allowed the NSA to use the company's powerful Daytona database management software to quickly search this and other communication databases.
By opening its network and databases to unrestricted spying by the government, EFF alleges that AT&T has violated the privacy of AT&T customers and the people they call and email.
That action violates the first and fourth amendments to the Constitution, federal wiretapping statutes, as well as telecommunications laws and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, according to the complaint.
"Congress has set up strong laws protecting the privacy of your communications, strictly limiting when telephone and Internet companies can subject your phone calls to government scrutiny," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "The companies that have betrayed their customers' trust by illegally handing the NSA direct access to their networks and databases must be brought to account."
AT&T is a significant provider of telecommunications and information technology services to the federal government. AT&T provides network services, systems integration and engineering, and software development services to a broad range of government agencies, including those involved in national defense, intelligence, and homeland security.
AT&T's federal customers include the White House, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and most branches of the armed forces. AT&T's support of the intelligence and defense communities includes the performance of various classified contracts.
To undertake this work, AT&T employs thousands of individuals who hold government security clearances, and it maintains special secure facilities for the performance of classified work and the safeguarding of classified information. In addition to providing services to critical government agencies responsible for national security, both AT&T and SBC support the national security infrastructure through their participation in all of the key fora for supporting U.S. government national security objectives.