EFF to court: Don't shield telecoms from illegal-spying suits

The Internet advocacy group will argue that its unconstitutional to protect telecoms after they helped Bush administration unlawfully spy on Americans.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for Internet users, is expected to argue in court on Tuesday that it's unconstitutional to prevent Americans from suing the telecom companies that allegedly helped the federal government unlawfully spy on them.

The FISA Amendments Act (FAA) gives telecommunications companies retroactive immunity for opening their networks to the National Security Agency. The telecoms can walk away from lawsuits as long as the government claims the request was "lawful" and authorized by the president. Before the law was passed, EFF had brought a lawsuit against AT&T that is before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

"The flawed (statute) improperly attempts to take away Americans' claims arising out of the First and Fourth Amendments," EFF wrote on its Web site. "(The law) violates the federal government's separation of powers as established in the Constitution, and robs innocent telecom customers of their rights without due process of law."

Opponents have said that the law is an endorsement by both major political parties of illegal surveillance conducted by the Bush administration. Among the U.S. senators who supported the law was President-elect Barack Obama.

Under the law, no lawsuit may proceed against any "electronic communication service provider" if either one of two conditions is met. The first is that the company provided assistance "in connection with an intelligence activity" authorized by the president between September 11, 2001 and January 17, 2007, when the wiretap program was altered to include more judicial oversight.

The second condition involves a company that received a "written request" from the U.S. Justice Department saying the activity was lawful and authorized by the president.

 

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