The U.S. Supreme Court has put an end to lawsuits against telecommunications companies for helping the Bush administration spy on American phone calls and emails.
During the height of Bush’s war-on-terror, the National Security Agency (NSA) gained access to the electronic systems of AT&T and other telecoms. The illegal surveillance outraged civil libertarians who filed more than 30 lawsuits, which prompted Congress in 2008 to grant retroactive immunity to companies aiding the NSA.
The lawsuits were eventually consolidated into a single case. But because of the immunity law, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit. The plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which refused to overturn the decision.
As a last resort, lawyers for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union petitioned the Supreme Court, arguing the retroactive immunity was an “unprecedented violation of the separation of powers” because it shielded the executive branch from being held accountable in court.
In a single sentence, the high court rejected the request, ending the six-year legal battle. But critics of the government—who say its mass warrantless collection of emails, telephone calls and other records is unconstitutional and not protected by claims of state secrets—continue other court challenges.
EFF is pursuing a similar case against the government in federal court, Jewel v. NSA, that was filed when the suit against the telecoms hit its early roadbloacks. It is scheduled for a hearing in San Francisco next month.
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