U.S. to Ask Courts to Toss Phone Suits

By Andrew Harris
Bloomberg News
Thursday, June 8, 2006

The government will seek dismissal of 20 lawsuits accusing the biggest telecommunications companies of providing customer call data to the National Security Agency, claiming that "military and state secrets" might be divulged were the lawsuits to proceed.

The Justice Department said it will not ask for the dismissal until all the lawsuits are consolidated before a single judge, according to papers filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, where a complaint is pending against AT&T Inc.

All of the cases contain "allegations about certain telecommunications carriers' purported assistance in classified government activities," the Justice Department said in its papers. "The United States intends to assert the military and state secrets privilege in those actions and to seek their dismissal."

AT&T, Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. were sued after USA Today reported last month that they cooperated with the NSA in sifting through millions of telephone records in search of call patterns indicating terrorist links. AT&T and BellSouth denied participating in the NSA program.

Verizon said in a written statement that it provides customer data to government agencies only "where authorized by law for appropriately defined and focused purposes."

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said the Chicago filing is the only one the department has submitted in the cases. He declined to comment further.

The filing was made in support of an AT&T request to stay the Chicago lawsuit, which was filed by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. AT&T lawyers want to freeze the case pending consolidation of all the NSA lawsuits.

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