ACLU Files Suit in State Court Demanding End to Privacy Violations by AT&T and Verizon
San Francisco - The ACLU California affiliates filed two lawsuits today in state court requesting injunctions against telecommunications giants AT&T and Verizon to prevent them from illegally providing the National Security Agency (NSA) with the personal phone records of millions of California customers.
The phone records were provided without the consent of their customers and without a warrant, court order or any other legal process. The lawsuits were filed on behalf of more than 100,000 ACLU members statewide and individual plaintiffs including a former Congressman, former linguist for the Army Security Agency, a Constitutional law professor, journalists, psychiatrists, attorneys, and a minister.
“On a massive scale, AT&T and Verizon have violated one of our most precious rights - the right to privacy guaranteed by our State Constitution,” said Dorothy Ehrlich, executive director of the ACLU of Northern California. “In the face of this unprecedented illegal and unconstitutional activity, we call upon the Court to order AT&T and Verizon to stop turning over Californian’s phone records to the government.”
According to USA TODAY, shortly after September 11, 2001, AT&T and Verizon unlawfully provided to the NSA the personal calling patterns of millions of California customers, including phone numbers called, and the time, date and direction of the calls without their customer’s knowledge, consent, or proper legal process.
Among those whose rights were violated are the following individual plaintiffs who all have compelling reasons for why their phone calls must remain private:
Tom Campbell is a former member of Congress and a former California State Senator, who objects to the disclosure of his customer calling records without either his consent or without a legal process. His local and long distance residential telephone carrier is AT&T.
Robert Scheer is a nationally syndicated columnist and journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle, who writes frequently about the war in Iraq and national security issues. He regularly uses his residential phone to make calls to confidential sources. AT&T is his residential telephone provider.
George Main is a computer consultant and former linguist for the Army Security Agency, which reported directly to the National Security Agency (1969-1978). Today, he is president of Sacramento Veterans for Peace and his recent anti-war activity was listed in the Pentagon’s secret database. He is a residential customer of AT&T for local and long distance service.
“What all of these plaintiffs have in common is the professional and personal need to know that when they pick up their telephone their conversations will remain private and confidential,” said Ann Brick, ACLU-NC staff attorney. “And that is exactly what AT&T and Verizon have violated.”
In doing so, the telephone providers have systematically trampled on the constitutional and statutory rights of millions of innocent Californians:
California Constitutional Right to Privacy Violation. AT&T and Verizon have violated the inalienable right to privacy guaranteed in Article I, Section 1 of the California Constitution. This provision was passed overwhelmingly by California voters in 1972 to protect the privacy rights of all and with the precise purpose of prohibiting data sharing of this type.
Consumer Protection Violation. AT&T and Verizon have violated California law that prohibits a telephone company from making available a residential subscriber’s personal calling information to another person or company without first obtaining the subscriber’s written consent.
“With the help of AT&T and Verizon, the NSA has assembled the largest database in the world,” said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director. “This is much more than data-mining. This has been the systematic strip-mining of the private calls of millions of innocent Americans.”
Nationally, AT&T has 49 million customers and Verizon has 100 million wireless and landline customers in 28 states.
On May 11, USA Today reported that the NSA had created a database that one expert called the “ largest….ever assembled in the world,” with the goal of creating a “database of every call ever made.” To do so, the NSA sought and won the cooperation of AT&T and Verizon.
The NSA database is also reportedly shared with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Intelligence and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
This week, twenty other ACLU affiliates throughout the country filed complaints with their local Public Utility Commissions or sent letters to state Attorney Generals and other officials demanding investigations into whether local telecommunications companies allowed the NSA to spy on their customers.
The ACLU also placed full-page ads in newspapers urging readers to file complaints with Public Utility Commissions at www.aclu.org/dontspy