Telecoms Duck Case Over Federal Wiretapping

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Supreme Court has declined to consider claims against telecommunications companies that participated in the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program.
     The decision not to grant certiorari spells the end to 33 lawsuits against Verizon, AT&T and other telecom companies. Privacy advocates had teamed with residential telephone and Internet users to inundate the courts with lawsuits after news reports in 2005 revealed that President George W. Bush had authorized the National Security Administration to conduct warrantless eavesdropping within the United States.
     Bush confirmed the program’s existence in a 2006 speech.
     As the consolidated federal cases awaited action in San Francisco, the U.S. Congress passed an amendment in 2008 to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) giving the telecoms immunity from civil actions for “providing assistance to an element of the intelligence community.”
     The government subsequently intervened in the multidistrict litigation and moved to dismiss all of the claims against the companies. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker granted the motion, and the 9th Circuit mostly affirmed dismissal in December 2011.
     The plaintiffs had challenged the FISA amendment on several constitutional grounds, but a three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the “statute is constitutional and does not violate Articles I or III of the Constitution or the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.”
     Two of the plaintiffs were, however, granted leave to advance their claims against the government, finding that FISA’s immunity clause did not apply.
     That decision said that the government may have violated the basic liberties set out in the U.S. Constitution by conducting a “communications dragnet of ordinary American citizens.”
     In denying the petitioners a writ of certiorari Tuesday, the high court abided by its custom of not releasing any comment on the decision. It noted only that Justice Samuel Alito took no part in the consideration of decision of the petition.

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