Judge Dumps Suit Over Bush-Era Wiretapping
SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal judge has dismissed AT&T customers' lawsuit over wiretapping conducted under former President George W. Bush, a challenge the judge had allowed to proceed before Congress intervened.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco ruled in 2006 that the AT&T customers could sue the company for allegedly allowing federal agents to intercept their calls and e-mails and seize their records without a warrant.
Bush acknowledged in December 2005 that he had ordered interception of communications between Americans and alleged foreign terrorists four years earlier without seeking court approval, as required by federal law.
Walker said the participation of AT&T was well established in public statements, including a declaration by a former AT&T employee about the presence of surveillance equipment for government agents at the company's San Francisco office.
But the judge dismissed the suit in September 2008 after Congress passed legislation shielding telecommunications companies from liability for any alleged role in the program. The customers immediately refiled the suit against the government, but Walker dismissed it Thursday, saying they couldn't show that any federal actions harmed them.
Unlike the AT&T suit, which was based on the company's contracts with its customers and its duty to maintain their privacy, the new suit was a claim of government wrongdoing that required evidence that the plaintiffs were the targets, Walker said.
To establish the right to sue, a private citizen must demonstrate a "direct, personal stake in the outcome" and cannot merely claim "a right to have the government follow the law," Walker said.
Because the AT&T customers have no evidence that they were personally wiretapped, he said, they cannot differentiate themselves from "the mass of telephone and Internet users in the United States."
Walker is still considering a lawsuit by an Islamic group that was accidentally sent a government document reportedly showing it had been wiretapped.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represents AT&T customers, said it would appeal Thursday's ruling.