Edward Snowden Had No Choice But to Break the Law - Government at FaultSubmitted by barracuda_trader on Wed, 06/12/2013 - 04:26
Lawsuits over government surveillance languish
PAUL ELIAS, AP
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Before there was Edward Snowden and the leak of explosive documents showing widespread government surveillance, there was Mark Klein — a telecommunications technician who alleged that AT&T was allowing U.S. spies to siphon vast amounts of customer data without warrants.
All the lawsuits prompted by Klein's disclosures were bundled up and shipped to a single San Francisco federal judge to handle. Nearly all the cases were tossed out when Congress in 2008 granted the telecommunications retroactive immunity from legal challenges, a law the U.S. Supreme Court upheld. Congress' action will make it difficult to sue the companies caught up in the latest disclosures.
The only lawsuit left from that bundle is one aimed directly at the government. And that case has been tied up in litigation over the U.S. Justice Department's insistence that airing the case in court would jeopardize national security.
"The United States government under both administrations has been stonewalling us in court," said Lee Tien, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represents the consumers who filed that lawsuit. EFF has also filed a related lawsuit seeking the Justice Department's legal interpretation of the law that the government is apparently relying on to collect consumers' electronic data without a warrant.
James Clapper, director of national intelligence, personally urged U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White to throw out the remaining lawsuit. Clapper wrote the judge in September that the government risks "exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States" if forced to fight the lawsuit.
But on Friday, federal prosecutors asked the judge to delay making any decision until it can report back to the court on July 12 what the latest disclosures may mean to the lawsuit. Tien and other EFF lawyers are also assessing the newest disclosures to determine if they bolster their case.
Snowden, 29, a former CIA employee who most recently worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency, admitted leaking details of two secret government surveillance programs.
He revealed a top-secret court order issued April 25 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that granted a three-month renewal for the large-scale collection of American phone records. That program, the same one Klein tried to expose, allows the NSA to gather hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records to search for possible links to terrorists abroad.