An electronic privacy group challenging President Bush's domestic spying program scored a minor victory when a judge ordered the federal government to release information about lobbying efforts by telecommunications companies to protect them from prosecution.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation in January 2006 filed a class-action suit against AT&T, accusing the company of illegally making communications on its networks available to the National Security Agency without warrants.
Congress is considering changing the law to grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that would protect them from such court challenges.
"Any attempt for immunity is aimed at getting these very important cases swept back under the rug," EFF spokeswoman Rebecca Jeschke said yesterday.
The EFF wants to know about "discussions, briefings or other exchanges" telecommunications companies have had with the Officer of the Director of National Intelligence, according to the court order.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said "all responsive, non-exempt documents" or anything required to be released under the Freedom of Information Act must be turned over by Dec. 10.
Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the intelligence director, said that the department doesn't comment on pending litigation but that "of course we comply with court orders."
The president confirmed last December that the NSA has been conducting warrantless surveillance of calls and e-mails thought to involve al-Qaeda terrorists if at least one party to the communication was outside the United States.
The administration contends the program is legal and necessary.
© 2007 Associated Press