The National Security Agency, other governmental agencies, and President George W. Bush are named in a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The action by EFF, a nonprofit with offices in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, also accuses Vice President Dick Cheney; David Addington, Cheney's chief of staff; Alberto Gonzales, former White House counsel and attorney general; and John McConnell, director of national intelligence, of participation in domestic surveillance.
The EFF filed the lawsuit to stop the NSA from allegedly spying on millions of Americans and to hold those who authorized the spying accountable. The EFF is also asking in its 55-page brief that all surveillance records be destroyed and for punitive, statutory and actual damages plus legal fees.
"For years, the NSA has been engaged in a massive and massively illegal fishing expedition through AT&T's domestic networks and databases of customer records," said Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney for EFF. "Our goal in this new case against the government, as in our case against AT&T, is to dismantle this dragnet surveillance program as soon as possible."
Cindy Cohn, legal director for EFF, said the lawsuit should send a message to the White House's future administration that breaking the law by violating Americans' right to privacy means consequences.
The NSA declined to comment on pending litigation.
Not the First Time
This is the second lawsuit by EFF for domestic spying. In 2006, EFF filed a suit against AT&T after Mark Klein, a telecommunications technician at AT&T, blew the whistle on the telecom giant. Klein said AT&T had a secret room called the SG3 Secure Room controlled by the NSA where millions of AT&T customers' phone conversations and Internet chats were being watched without their knowledge.
The SG3 room, according to court papers, contained sophisticated equipment, including a Narus Semantic Traffic Analyzer. The analyzer looks through large amounts of communication at high speeds and is programmed to analyze content and traffic patterns according to user-defined rules.
Klein, who worked for AT&T before retiring in May 2004, testified that he was visited by an NSA agent in 2002 and again in 2003. Klein said he saw a room being built near the AT&T switch room, which was later referred to as the SG3 Secure Room, and was asked to do troubleshooting for the operation. "To my knowledge, only employees cleared by the NSA were permitted to enter the SG3 room," Klein said in court papers.
But Klein gained access to the room when he was invited into the otherwise off-limits room by another technician.
The Case Continues
The surveillance was revealed in December 2005 and officials said it was intended to intercept terrorist communications.
In May 2006, other cases were filed against a number of telecommunication companies. The Multi-District Litigation Panel of the federal courts transferred 40 cases to the Northern District of California.
EFF's case against AT&T, however, is stalled in federal court, according to EFF, because of a new law granting immunity to AT&T and other companies who participated in the surveillance.
The amended Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act protects telecommunications companies from litigation if they were helping the NSA or other government agencies. EFF is arguing that the law is unconstitutional and said it expects the case to continue into 2009.