Feb. 24, 2006 – Upping the ante in what may be a high-stakes legal battle, an Upstate New York lawyer filed a $20 billion class-action lawsuit against Verizon last week, charging that the company violated customer confidentiality in aiding warrantless eavesdropping by a federal spy agency.
- AT&T Sued over NSA Wiretap Support (Feb 2, 2006)
The civil suit is the second to challenge corporations for helping the National Security Agency carry out a secret order by the president to spy on communications between people in the United States and parties overseas without first obtaining warrants.
The New York Times first revealed the existence of the NSA surveillance program in December. The Bush administration continues to defend it as a necessary and permissible tool in the "war on terror," but most legal scholars who have addressed the matter disagree with the administrationâ€™s interpretation of executive privileges.
In a statement announcing the suit last Friday, lawyer Michael S. Pascazi in Fishkill, New York called the NSA program "the largest invasion of privacy ever devised." Citing media reports, Pascazi alleged that Verizon provided the spy agency with communications records of customers and non-customers alike, violating consumer trust and numerous laws. The suit was filed on behalf of all people who have used Verizon facilities to communicate while the NSA program had access to Verizonâ€™s databases.
In addition to allowing the NSA to tap into its communications lines, the suit alleges that Verizon continues to provide "unfettered" access to its massive databases containing communication records. Pascazi is asking for $20 billion in damages.
As previously reported by The NewStandard, at the end of January, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a similar suit against AT&T, alleging, in part, that the telecommunications giant is acting in "collaboration" with the NSA in what EFF lawyer Kevin Bankston termed "the biggest fishing expedition ever devised."
The two lawsuits join parallel efforts by three groups seeking court orders to halt the program. Shortly after the surveillance efforts were revealed, the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Privacy Information Clearinghouse and Center for Constitutional Rights filed separate suits against the administration.