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EFF files suit against AT&T over NSA wiretaps

Written by Kelsey Sigurdur Wednesday, 01 February 2006

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a class-action suit accusing telecom monster AT&T of collaborating with the National Security Agency's (NSA) illegal wire-tapping.

According to the complaint, AT&T has given the NSA direct and unfettered access to at least two databases filled to the brim with information collected from the 300 million calls and the 4,000 terabytes of data that get pumped through AT&T's network every day.

The first database, code-named "Hawkeye", is said to contain records of every telephone call made over AT&T's network since 2001. The records include both the originating and terminating telephone numbers, the time of the call, the calls length, and some personally identifiable customer proprietary network information.

The second database, less obviously code-named "Aurora", is AT&T's network security database and is said to contain internet traffic data, including usage details, dating back to 2003.

In the largest "fishing expedition" ever devised, the NSA uses powerful computers to "data-mine" the contents of these Internet and telephone communications for suspicious names, numbers, and words, and to analyze traffic data indicating who is calling and emailing whom in order to identify persons who may be "linked" to "suspicious activities," suspected terrorists or other investigatory targets, whether directly or indirectly.

In a report filed at ars technica, author Peter Pollack suggests that the EFF's suit may be short lived thanks to the Bush Administrations penchant for state secrets: a legal precedent that allows the federal government to dismiss cases that it claims would threaten foreign policy, military intelligence or national security:

With state secrets already having been invoked by the Bush administration for much smaller issues, it seems to me that the AT&T suit is ripe for some executive intervention.

The smaller issue refers to the case of FBI translator Sibel Edmonds. Fired from her post at the FBI after reporting security breaches and misconduct in the agency's translation program, Edmonds filed suit in federal court only to have her case dismissed last July after Attorney General John Ashcroft invoked the state secrets privilege.

When queried about the EFF's complaint by CNET News, AT&T spokesman Dave Pacholczyk was quoted as saying We don't comment on matters of national security.

You can read more about the suit at the Electronic Frontier Foundation site.

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