Bloomberg News

Surveillance Law Upheld While Lawsuit Allowed to Proceed

December 30, 2011

(Updates with decision in second paragraph.)

Dec. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the constitutionality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, saying it didn’t violate the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment, while allowing another suit over the statute to move forward.

In the second case, the court held that the plaintiff had the right to sue over warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. citizens by the federal government following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The court dismissed a third case against the government and telecommunications companies for lack of jurisdiction.

In August 2008, the court declined to rule on a privacy lawsuit against AT&T Inc., citing Congress’s decision a month earlier to shield telecommunications companies from claims over their role in the U.S. surveillance program. The court sent the lawsuit back to the judge who refused requests to dismiss it by the administration of President George W. Bush, which claimed the case might reveal national security secrets.

The three-judge appeals panel said Aug. 21 that it was returning the case “in light of the Federal Intelligence Act Surveillance Amendment Act of 2008.” That law affected more than 40 lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages from phone companies, including AT&T and Sprint Nextel Corp. The carriers were accused of violating customers’ privacy by helping the government wiretap suspected terrorists without court approval. The companies argued the cases should be dismissed because the government assured them the surveillance was legal.

The case is Hepting v AT&T, 07-17132, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).

--Editor: Patrick Oster

To contact the reporter on this story: David E. Rovella in New York at drovella@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net


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