A century ahead of Alexander Graham Bell’s engineering feats, our Founding Fathers might’ve been hard-pressed to imagine a U.S. Government-engineered spy network that would tap into its own citizens’ every electronic or digital communication near instantaneously. But, themselves the product of wartime, they suspected the reaches of infamy and built in a number of safeguards grounded in principles rudimentary enough to be adapted to technological revolutions.
Of course, our government didn’t act alone in its post-9/11 warrantless-wiretapping scheme, as AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein revealed in 2005, smoking-gun docs included. AT&T, Cingular, Verizon, T Mobile, MCI, Sprint, and BellSouth have all been named in civil suits seeking damages for violation of rights and privacy. But AT&T, we know thanks to Klein, set up a room for the NSA in its San Francisco offices, where data was directly routed in bulk. Klein’s testimony suggests more than a dozen other NSA filter rooms exist.
San Antonio-based SBC acquired AT&T (and adopted its already tarnished name) after AT&T’s betrayal of client privacy was well under way. But according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation — legal architects of key lawsuits against these spy-coms who complied with the government’s illegal wiretapping demands — there’s no reason to think that it stopped with the merger, or, in fact, doesn’t continue today, thanks to the FISA Amendments Act passed July 7, 2008.
On June 4, California U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker dismissed the lawsuits against the telecoms — all of which were consolidated in his court — based on the controversial “retroactive immunity” provisions included in the FISAAA, but the EFF and the ACLU plan to take their arguments to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The FISAAA provisions violate the separation of powers, by allowing the executive branch to predetermine the outcome of pending litigation in the judicial branch. Worse yet, the Attorney General exercises this Harry Potter-like magic through secret orders, which can assert that any instance of warrantless wiretapping was (a) imaginary, (b) not, in fact, illegal, or (c) was represented as legal by the government. If the telecom and government are successful in this suit, you’ll never know.
Walker did let separate suits proceed against the government and individual actors, including former attorneys general and W; that court date is set for early September.