SAN FRANCISCO - A US federal judge dismissed dozens of lawsuits against telecom companies that participated in a wiretapping program without court authorization during the presidency of George W. Bush.
San Francisco-based US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the companies had immunity from liability under the FISA Amendments Act (FISAAA), which the US Congress adopted in 2008.
The measure granted retroactive immunity for telecommunications firms that participated in the warrantless government eavesdropping of telephone conversations and monitoring of e-mail messages following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States.
Two rights groups, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) -- which represents 46 plaintiffs in the case -- plan to appeal the decision, arguing that FISAAA is unconstitutional.
"We're deeply disappointed in Judge Walker's ruling today," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn.
"By passing the retroactive immunity for the telecoms' complicity in the warrantless wiretapping program, Congress abdicated its duty to the American people," opined EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl.
After the September 11 attacks, Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on calls and email between the United States and abroad in cases that federal agents deemed may have a terror link, potentially picking up Americans in the sweep.
The wiretaps went ahead without the permission of a special court set up to watch over government wiretapping operations inside the United States, as provided for under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978.
The program caused public outcry when it was revealed in 2005. Opponents argued that US privacy guarantees meant the intelligence agencies should seek court warrants from the FISA court to conduct such spying inside the country.