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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Sunday, April 30, 2006

I think there's another smoking gun around here.

This one's connected to the the illegal wiretapping of phone and internet communications that the US National Security Agency has been conducting at Dubya's behest. That domestic spying started shortly after 9/11 and, even though the threat of terrorist attacks has receded since then, the amount of illegal wiretapping has continued to rise.

Where exactly is this supposed smoking gun, you ask? Well, that takes a bit of back-story.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the main ways the NSA conducts its spying is via a sweetheart arrangement with AT&T. To prove this, the EFF filed a federal class-action lawsuit against AT&T this past January, alleging that the telecommunication giant has illegally given the NSA full access to its customers' internet and telephone communications, and has been providing access to its extensive database of caller information. The lawsuit asks the court to order AT&T to immediately stop giving this customer information to the feds.

Earlier this month, EFF filed additional documents with the court to support its request for an injunction. These included three internal AT&T documents that outline how the surveillance was being conducted at facilities in San Francisco. AT&T has been very unhappy that these documents have surfaced, and has asked the court to make EFF give the documents back and not refer to them further in its lawsuit.

This magpie isn't a lawyer, but that sure strikes us as tantamount to an admission of guilt.

But there's more — and this is where we get to the smoking gun part. A hearing has been set for June 21 at which the court will determine whether the AT&T documents, plus other evidence currently under seal by the court, will be made public. But on Friday, both AT&T and the feds took action to prevent that hearing from ever happening.
  • AT&T filed notice [PDF file] that it will be asking the court on June 8 to dismiss the EFF lawsuit on grounds of lack of jurisdiction. AT&T is arguing that, because it's a holding company, it doesn't actually operate in California. You basically have to read the filing to appreciate the chutzpah of this argument.
  • The Justice Department filed a 'Statement of Interest' {PDF file] announcing that the government would "assert the military and state secrets privilege" and "intervene to seek dismissal" of EFF's lawsuit. This move to dismiss will be made by May 12. Interestingly, the main authority that the government cites for why the NSA spying is legal — and should therefore be protected under the state secrets privilege — is Dubya's own claim, made in a December 2005 press conference, that his authorization of the spying was legal. Yes, the government is essentially asking a federal court to buy the argument that that because the president says something is legal, that makes it legal.
Given that AT&T and the feds are very anxious to keep EFF's case against the NSA's domestic surveillance from continuing, I have to wonder just what's making them so nervous. Could it be that those sealed AT&T internal documents show that the feds are, as a former AT&T technician alleges, doing 'vacuum-cleaner surveillance' of internet traffic? Or are the feds worried that any examination of the NSA's authority to conduct domestic wiretapping will show that Dubya didn't have the authority to order that wiretapping?

Inquiring magpies want to know.

Note: For more on the EFF lawsuit against AT&T, see this earlier Magpie post. There's more on the NSA's domestic surveillance network in this post.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:48 AM | Get permalink




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