A panel of U.S. judges has consolidated 17 lawsuits that allege that telecommunications carriers participated in a secret U.S. government-sponsored wiretapping program.The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled this week that all 17 cases across the United States\u00a0should be heard by Judge Vaughn R. Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Walker is presiding over a class-action lawsuit against AT&T, filed by civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).The EFF filed notice of the transfer order with Walker Thursday. The order moves cases from New York, Texas, Illinois, Rhode Island, Montana, Louisiana, Oregon, Tennessee and other California jurisdictions to Walker\u2019s court.Walker on July 20 denied motions by the U.S. government and AT&T to dismiss the case. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) filed a new motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the case involved "particularly sensitive national security interests." On Tuesday, Walker delayed the case pending a consolidation decision. The EFF on Thursday asked Walker to allow the case to move forward now that the jurisdictional issues have been resolved.AT&T and the DoJ asked the judge\u2019s panel to consolidate the cases to a Washington, D.C., court, as did Verizon Communications and BellSouth, which are defendants in some of the lawsuits. Verizon and BellSouth have both denied participation in a U.S. National Security Agency wiretap program.But no case is pending in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the judge\u2019s panel said.The judge\u2019s panel decided Walker\u2019s court was the best place to move the cases because it\u2019s where the case was first filed. "Significantly more advanced action is pending before a judge already well versed in the issues," the panel\u2019s order said.-Grant Gross, IDG News Service (Washington Bureau)Check out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.