Telecommunications surveillance will continue

A US appeals panel has upheld the supposed constitutionality of a controversial federal law that grants immunity to telecommunications companies assisting in the surveillance of American citizens.

The latest ruling effectively reinforces the 2008 decision of Congress to grant telecoms immunity for cooperating with the government’s intelligence-gathering activities.

According to Judge Margaret McKeown of the 9th Circuit, the above-mentioned immunity does not “close” the courts for those wishing to challenge such actions, as only the telecommunications companies are covered by the ruling – rather than the government itself.

“The federal courts remain a [valid] forum to consider the constitutionality of the wiretapping scheme and other claims,” she wrote in a ruling obtained by Reuters. 

Unsurprisingly, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) issued an official statement decrying the decision.

“By passing the retroactive immunity for the telecoms’ complicity in the warrantless wiretapping program, Congress abdicated its duty to the American people,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl.

“It is disappointing that today’s decision endorsed the rights of telecommunications companies over those over their customers.”

McKeown’s ruling comes almost six years after the first revelations of the warrantless wiretapping program were published in the New York Times on December 16, 2006.

In related news, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a federal attempt to dismiss the EFF’s lawsuit against an illegal mass surveillance program which allegedly diverts Internet traffic into secure rooms in AT&T facilities across the country – under the auspices of the National Security Agency (NSA).

“Since the dragnet spying program first came to light, we have been fighting for the chance to have a court determine whether it is legal,” explained EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn.  

“The Ninth Circuit has given us that chance, and we look forward to proving the program is an unconstitutional and illegal violation of the rights of millions of ordinary Americans.”