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EFF Sues AT&T to Stop Illegal Surveillance

EFF Sues AT&T to Stop Illegal Surveillance

Telecom Collaborated with NSA to Spy on Customers

Electronic Frontier Foundation

San Francisco - 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 and illegal 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. And yet little has been accomplished by this illegal spying: recent reports have shown that the data from this wholesale surveillance has done little more than waste FBI resources on dead leads.

"The NSA program is apparently the biggest fishing expedition ever devised, scanning millions of ordinary Americans’ phone calls and emails for ’suspicious’ patterns, and it’s the collaboration of US telecom companies like AT&T that makes it possible," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "When the government defends spying on Americans by saying, ’If you’re talking to terrorists we want to know about it,’ that’s not even close to the whole story."

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 300 terabyte "Daytona" database of caller information—one of the largest databases in the world.

"AT&T’s customers reasonably expect that their communications are private and have long trusted AT&T to follow the law and protect that privacy. Unfortunately, AT&T has betrayed that trust," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "At the NSA’s request, AT&T eviscerated the legal safeguards required by Congress and the courts with a keystroke."

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, as well as broken longstanding communications privacy laws.

While other organizations are suing the government directly, EFF is seeking to protect Americans’ privacy by stopping the collaboration of AT&T with the illegal NSA spying program and making it economically impossible for AT&T to continue to give its customers’ information to the government.

"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 needs to put a sign on its door that reads, ’Come Back With a Warrant.’"

In the suit filed Tuesday, EFF is representing the class of all AT&T customers nationwide. EFF is seeking an injunction to stop AT&T participation in the illegal NSA program, as well as billions of dollars in damages for violation of federal privacy laws. Working with EFF in the lawsuit are the law firms Traber & Voorhees, and Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP.

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