Fed. Says in Spy Suit: Telephone Company Part of Goverment

October 11, 2009

(ChattahBox)—Wired Magazine published an eye-opening piece this week on the true relationship between the telephone companies and the spy agencies of the federal government under the Bush administration. The government admitted in court documents, as a defense to a Freedom of Information Act request, that the named telecoms were actually an arm of the federal government.

In the wake of the revelation that telephone companies were complicit with the federal government in spying on Americans without a warrant, many telecoms were sued for their illegal actions. However, the Justice Department and other governmental agencies successfully pushed to provide the telecom companies with retroactive immunity from any lawsuits.

Now, the watchdog group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, asking for communications between telecom companies and government agencies, regarding the retroactive immunity deal. The Justice Department argued that such communications were not subject to a Freedom of Information request, because they were “intra-agency” records.

The government filings in the lawsuit said:

“The communications between the agencies and telecommunications companies regarding the immunity provisions of the proposed legislation have been regarded as intra-agency because the government and the companies have a common interest in the defense of the pending litigation and the communications regarding the immunity provisions concerned that common interest.”

However, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffery White disagreed and ruled on September 24 that the communications were indeed properly subject to disclosure, because the telecoms contacted the White House to lobby in their own self interests and not that of the government’s.

“Those documents are not protected from disclosure because the companies communicated with the government agencies “with their own … interests in mind,” rather than the agency’s interests.” wrote Judge Jeffery.

The Justice Department, under the Obama administration, responded with an emergency stay motion, asking for additional time to file an appeal to the court’s decision.

The Obama administration is in favor of retaining key provisions of the Patriot Act, enacted after 9/11, allowing secret domestic spying on Americans under the National Security Agency. Democrats in Congress are demanding that the Patriot be rewritten to prevent the surveillance abuses that took place under the Bush administration.


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