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June 4, 2009
Vindication as judge drops suit against Telecoms
Their country called and they responded by cooperating in an effort to prevent another 9/11.
For that, they were excoriated by the left and sued by the ACLU and other groups. But today, that aspect of the Bush domestic security plan was vindicated when a judge refused to overturn legislation from last year that granted Telecoms immunity for cooperating with the government in sharing data and helping authorities track terrorists overseas who communicated with their American supporters. This piece in Wired by David Kravets has the details:
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker upheld summer legislation protecting the companies from the lawsuits. The legislation, which then-Sen. Barack Obama voted for, also granted the government the authority to monitor American's telecommunications without warrants if the subject was communicating with somebody overseas suspected of terrorism.
Bush acknowledged the so-called Terror Surveillance Program in December 2005, and claimed as chief executive, his war powers gave him the authority to spy without court authorization.
Walker's decision (.pdf), if it survives, ends more than three years of litigation accusing the nation's carriers of funneling Americans' electronic communications to the Bush administration without warrants in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The ruling also means that the public may never know how the Bush White House coaxed the telecoms to participate in the program without court warrants, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation alleged in a lawsuit lodged in federal court here three years ago.
"Congress has manifested its unequivocal intention to create an immunity that will shield the telecommunications company defendants from liability in these actions," Walker wrote.
The legislation at issue in the case was crafted after Walker had refused to dismiss the lawsuit the EFF brought in 2006 against AT&T.
This doesn't end the challenges. There is another suit by two lawyers who worked for an Islamic charity targeted by the terrorist surveillance program who have gone to court to seek relief. The judge will rule on those issues involving the government's right to spy on them separately. A hearing is scheduled for September 1 in that action.
But the victory for the Telecoms is good news in that their cooperation was a vital part of the terrorist surveillance program and that future cooperation with the government in domestic security matters was at stake.