The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a lawsuit against the US National Security Agency (NSA), US President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other government officials, alleging that an NSA electronic surveillance program continues to illegally spy on US residents.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, alleges that the NSA is conducting mass surveillance on US residents, even as Bush and other officials say the program only targets US residents when they communicate with overseas terrorism suspects. Filed in US District Court for the Northern District of California, the lawsuit is a class-action complaint on behalf of all residential customers of AT&'s telephone and Internet services.
The lawsuit alleges that the NSA has installed equipment to conduct mass surveillance at AT&T telecom facilities in San Francisco; Atlanta; Seattle; Los Angeles; San Diego; San Jose, California; and Bridgeton, Missouri. "We allege a nationwide network of such NSA vacuum-cleaner surveillance facilities that would indiscriminately collect communications of all of the people who use AT&T's network," said Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney at EFF.
Former AT&T technician Mark Klein, who leaked AT&T documents about the program in 2006, and various news reports have described a surveillance program that goes beyond the NSA intercepting a few phone calls or e-mails exchanged between US residents and terrorism suspects, Bankston said.
The White House and the NSA didn't immediately respond to requests for comments on the EFF lawsuit. Bush administration officials have long defended the program as essential for fighting terrorism.
The Bush administration pitched the NSA program as being focused on foreign terrorism suspects during debate in the US Congress earlier this year about approval for the program, Bankston said. The surveillance program had been operating since 2001 without court or congressional oversight until July, when Congress passed a bill giving limited oversight to the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
"Our case is about the interception of millions of ordinary Americans' communications," Bankston said. "If the government is proceeding under the purported authority of the [July legislation], then the administration has perpetrated an incredible fraud on both Congress and the American people in describing that law as limited to targeting people outside the United States."