Five Californians sued the Bush administration in federal court in San Francisco today for allegedly conducting ongoing illegal “dragnet surveillance” of Americans' telephone and e-mail communications.
The lawsuit was filed against the National Security Agency, Justice Department, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials.
It accuses the government of violating the Constitution and federal laws by using sophisticated surveillance devices attached to telecommunications facilities to acquire the content and records of messages of millions of Americans.
Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said federal lawyers had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment.
“When we do see the lawsuit, we'll review it and determine how to respond in court,” Miller said.
The five plaintiffs are present or former customers of AT&T Corp.'s telephone or Internet service and are represented by lawyers from the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The new case is separate from 38 lawsuits filed nationally against telecommunications companies that have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco.
Kevin Bankston, a lawyer with the foundation, said the new lawsuit is intended to “open a second front” in the fight against alleged warrantless surveillance by suing the government rather than telephone companies.
An amendment to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed by Congress in July is intended to give the telephone companies immunity from the previous lawsuits. Walker will hold a hearing Dec. 2 on the government's bid for dismissal of those lawsuits.
Bankston said, “Our goal in this new case against the government, as in our case against AT&T, is to dismantle this dragnet surveillance program as soon as possible.”
The plaintiffs are Tash Hepting, of Livermore, a systems architect; Gregory Hicks, of San Jose, a retired Naval officer and systems engineer; Carolyn Jewel, of Petaluma, a database administrator and author; Erik Knutzen, of Los Angeles, a photographer; and Joyce Walton of San Jose, a high-tech purchasing agent.
The suit seeks to be certified as a class action on behalf of all present or former U.S. subscribers to AT&T's telephone or Internet services since September 2001, when the warrantless surveillance allegedly began.
In addition to Bush and Cheney, the individual defendants are National Security Agency director Keith Alexander; former director Michael Hayden; Cheney chief of staff David Addington; Attorney General Michael Mukasey; former attorneys general Alberto Gonzales and John Ashcroft; director of national intelligence John McConnell and former director John Negroponte.
Four of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit are also plaintiffs in a case filed against AT&T in federal court in San Francisco in January 2006.
That lawsuit, known as the Hepting case, was the first to be filed against a telecommunications company for aiding the NSA in the alleged surveillance.
That suit claimed that former AT&T technician Mark Klein had evidence AT&T routed copies of Internet traffic at a San Francisco facility to a secret room controlled by the NSA.
Bay City News