SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The Bush administration asked a federal judge to toss out lawsuits seeking to unearth information about the U.S. telecommunications industry’s alleged participation in a warrantless government eavesdropping program.

Five states want consumer records the telecommunications companies allegedly turned over to the National Security Administration as part of a domestic eavesdropping program President George W. Bush authorized after Sept. 11, 2001.

Lawyers for New Jersey, Vermont, Maine, Missouri and Connecticut argued that they are pursuing complaints by consumers that their privacy rights may have been violated if phone records were turned over to the NSA without their consent.

Department of Justice lawyers argued Thursday in U.S. District Court that such disclosures would harm national security and foreign affairs.

“It’s plain what they are seeking is information about the intelligence-gathering of the NSA,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General Carl Nichols told Judge Vaughn Walker.

Nichols also argued that the states’ consumer privacy concerns conflicted with national security laws, which take precedent.

New Jersey Assistant Attorney General Patrick DeAlmeida argued that state officials are simply investigating whether any local privacy laws or utility regulations were violated by the telephone companies. He said the government’s national security claims are too broad and general as to preclude all state inquiry.

“They’ve come to federal court to stop state officials from even beginning their investigations,” DeAlmeida said. “They are insulating the federal government from any investigation from state officials by insulating themselves in state secrets arguments.”

Maine Assistant Attorney General Christopher Taub said his state wants Verizon Communications Inc. executives to confirm the accuracy of two press releases the company issued denying it turned over customer data to the NSA.

“We simply want that under oath so we can conclude the investigation,” Taub said. “At this point the states are simply trying to find out if there has been any violation of state laws.”

Verizon and several of the country’s biggest telecommunications companies including AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. are among those being sued.

The five states served several telecommunications companies with subpoenas demanding to know what kind of customer information was turned over to the NSA as part of its anti-terror efforts. Those cases, plus about two dozen others brought by consumers, privacy advocates and others are all being heard by Walker, who earlier ruled that one case could continue despite objections from government lawyers that the lawsuit could jeopardize state secrets. The government’s appeal of that ruling is scheduled to be heard in San Francisco in August.

Bush confirmed in December 2005 that the NSA has been conducting warrantless surveillance of calls and e-mails thought to involve al-Qaida terrorists if at least one of the parties to the communication is outside the United States.

The administration contends the program is legal and necessary, but has been mum on whether purely domestic calls and electronic communications are being monitored, as any of the lawsuits allege.

AP-ES-06-22-07 0835EDT


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.