Saturday, April 29, 2006
The federal government intends to invoke the rarely used "State Secrets Privilege" -- the legal equivalent of a nuclear bomb -- in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's class action lawsuit against AT&T that alleges the telecom collaborated with the government's secret spying on American citizens.
The State Secrets Privilege is a vestige from English common law that lets the executive branch step into a civil lawsuit and have it dismissed if the case might reveal information that puts national security at risk.
Today's assertion severely darkens the prospects of the EFF's lawsuit, which the organization had hoped would shine light on the extent of the Bush Administration's admitted warrantless spying on Americans.
The government is not admitting, however, that AT&T aided the National Security Agency in spying on American's phone calls and internet communications.
"[T]he fact that the United States will assert the state secrets privilege should
not be construed as a confirmation or denial of any of Plaintiffs¿ allegations, either about AT&T or the alleged surveillance activities," the filing reads. "When allegations are made about purported classified government activities or relationships, regardless of whether those allegations are accurate, the existence or non-existence of the activity or relationship is potentially a state secret."
The Justice Department has not formally invoked the privilege yet.
Today's notice was intended to inform Northern California US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker that the government was intending to assert the privilege in order to seek dismissal of the case.
The complete paperwork justifying the government's decision will be filed by May 12.
Full filing (.pdf)