Friday, August 18, 2006

Electronic Frontier Foundation - Protecting Our Right to Privacy

When our freedoms in the electronically networked world we live in today come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is our first line of defense. They confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today, taking on both the US government and large corporations.

From the beginning, EFF has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights. The EFF blends the expertise of lawyers, policy analysts, activists, and technologists, achieving significant victories on behalf of consumers and the general public.

This article demonstrates how our government has already started spying on its citizens and also shows how the government is trying to create legislation that would allow it to spy on its citizens.

EFF filed the class-action suit against AT&T in January, alleging that the telecommunications company has given the National Security Agency (NSA) secret, direct access to the phone calls and emails going over its network and has been handing over communications logs detailing the activities of millions of ordinary Americans. The government intervened in the case and asked that it be dismissed because the suit could expose "state secrets." But Thursday, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker refused: "The compromise between liberty and security remains a difficult one. But dismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security."

"We are gratified that Judge Walker rejected the government's overbroad claims of secrecy, and that our case on behalf of AT&T customers can go forward," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "Judge Walker correctly found that the government, after having already admitted to and extensively commented on the NSA's spying program, cannot now claim that it is a secret and sweep AT&T's role under the rug."

EFF's victory against government secrecy, however, comes in the shadow of a legislative proposal that could spell trouble for court challenges against the NSA program. Last week, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter and the White House announced a deal on legislation that could lead the government to attempt to shuffle EFF's lawsuit and other challenges out of the traditional court system and into a secret court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Until now, the FISA court's only job has been to approve secret surveillance requests by the government, in proceedings where only government lawyers get to argue.

"A decision to bury these cases in the shadowy FISA court would not only violate our nation's tradition of open judicial proceedings, it's also unnecessary," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "As Judge Walker demonstrated today, the conventional court system is perfectly capable of handling these cases and can do so by balancing the public's need for transparency with proper protections for security. Any bill that would attempt to sweep these cases into the secret court should be rejected."

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