Monday, December 1, 2008

ACLU Files Suit Against AT&T and Verizon

I found this tidbit of good news on the ACLU'S website. On November 26th the group filed two lawsuits in state court requesting injunctions against AT&T and Verizon to prevent them from illegally providing the National Security Agency (NSA) with the personal phone records of millions of California customers.

As the ACLU notes in its press release, "The phone records were provided without the consent of their customers and without a warrant, court order or any other legal process. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of more than 100,000 ACLU members statewide and individual plaintiffs including a former Congressman, former linguist for the Army Security Agency, a Constitutional law professor, journalists, psychiatrists, attorneys, and a minister."

More from the release:

According to USA TODAY, shortly after September 11, 2001, AT&T and Verizon unlawfully provided to the NSA the personal calling patterns of millions of California customers, including phone numbers called, and the time, date and direction of the calls without their customer’s knowledge, consent, or proper legal process.


Among those whose rights were violated are the following individual plaintiffs who all have compelling reasons for why their phone calls must remain private:

Robert Scheer is a nationally syndicated columnist and journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle, who writes frequently about the war in Iraq and national security issues. He regularly uses his residential phone to make calls to confidential sources. AT&T is his residential telephone provider.


...the telephone providers have systematically trampled on the constitutional and statutory rights of millions of innocent Californians:

  • California Constitutional Right to Privacy Violation. AT&T and Verizon have violated the inalienable right to privacy guaranteed in Article I, Section 1 of the California Constitution. This provision was passed overwhelmingly by California voters in 1972 to protect the privacy rights of all and with the precise purpose of prohibiting data sharing of this type.
  • Consumer Protection Violation. AT&T and Verizon have violated California law that prohibits a telephone company from making available a residential subscriber’s personal calling information to another person or company without first obtaining the subscriber’s written consent.

So we know that AT&T and Verizon has repeatedly violated the right to privacy - guaranteed by our State Constitution - of millions of its customers. We also know that this unprecedented illegal and unconstitutional activity coincides with the NSA's recently assembled database of our calls that happens to be the largest the world has ever seen. Together, this represents exactly what the ACLU is arguing: "the systematic strip-mining of the private calls of millions of innocent Americans.”

It goes without saying the court should order AT&T and Verizon to stop turning over Californian’s phone records to the government immediately. What is less certain is what kinds of actions a President Obama might take in restoring the right to privacy and protecting US citizens from the ever growing watchful eye of Big Brother.

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