Justice Dept. Again Tries to Nix Wiretap Suit

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has filed a new motion to dismiss a lawsuit over AT&T’s alleged participation in a government-sponsored wiretapping program.

The DoJ filed a new petition Monday, just 11 days after Judge Vaughn R. Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California denied the government’s motion for dismissal or summary judgment. In the case, civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) accuses AT&T of participating in an allegedly illegal wiretapping program created by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

The DoJ, in Monday’s petition to an appeals court, argues Walker took the "highly unusual action" of ignoring the U.S. government’s claim that the case involves state secrets. The judge "has thereby placed at risk particularly sensitive national security interests," wrote DoJ lawyers.

Walker, in this July 20 ruling, did allow the U.S. government and AT&T to make a quick appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

While the DoJ contends the NSA program is legal, its lawyers wrote in the petition that AT&T cannot defend itself against the EFF allegations without "disclosure of state secrets."

AT&T "could neither confirm nor deny whether it was indeed cooperating with the NSA concerning foreign intelligence gathering activities," the DoJ’s lawyers wrote.

An EFF spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

By Grant Gross, IDG News Service (Washington Bureau)

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