by CIO Staff

AT&T Loses Bid to Get Tapping Documents Back

May 18, 20062 mins

The group leading a class-action lawsuit that charges AT&T of handing over Internet-user information to the U.S. government won an early court battle Wednesday.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) doesn’t have to return to AT&T a set of documents it alleges is evidence that the carrier is turning over real-time information on its customers’ use of the Internet, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled.

AT&T said the three documents, which were given to EFF by an engineer who worked for the carrier, should be given back because they contain trade secrets. At Wednesday’s hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, Walker rejected AT&T’s motion but ordered the EFF not to show the documents to anyone else.

On Wednesday, Walker also asked both sides to come to agreement on what parts of the papers should be made public, or present him with their arguments if they can’t agree, by next Thursday. The papers involve only the allegations about real-time Internet data use, not stored phone and Internet records, said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. The group does not yet have any evidence that AT&T is providing real-time voice-call information to the government, she said.

The EFF is suing AT&T on behalf of its customers, alleging the company agreed to give the government wholesale access to phone call records and real-time information on Internet data use, all without the government producing a warrant or other required authority. The data collection was begun as part of antiterrorist measures following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the group said.

AT&T and the U.S. government both want the case dismissed. The judge set a hearing for motions from both of them on June 23. Meanwhile, the EFF wants Walker to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the alleged data collection. He declined to have that motion heard until after he considers whether to dismiss the case.

-Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service

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