The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a lawsuit against AT&T and other telecom carriers that allowed law enforcement to tap into phone networks without warrants.
Because the Court declined to hear the appeal, the lawsuit is basically put to rest permanently, according to eWeek.com. This stirs the fear of wiretapping as a violation of Fourth Amendment rights, which protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures.
However, wiretapping in the search for terrorists has not been considered unreasonable by the Court.
Thirty-three lawsuits against phone companies in the U.S. have been previously filed by civil-liberties advocates. This particular case, Hepting et al vs. AT&T Corp et al, was heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which upheld a lower court's decision to dismiss the telecom carriers' actions.
This ruling keeps the Court consistent with government practices put into play after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, although the move toward greater surveillance has been frequently fought by civil liberties groups, eWeek said.
One watchdog group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has repeatedly filed suits against federal agencies to challenge the legality of wiretapping. TechHive said the group expressed disappointment with the Court's decision to decline the hearing of this latest appeal.
On an information page related to the case, EFF said that "undisputed evidence" was provided by a former AT&T technician revealing that the telecom carrier routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco, which is controlled by the U.S. National Security Agency.
The decision made by the Court “lets the telecommunications companies off the hook for betraying their customers’ trust and handing their communications and communications records to the NSA without a warrant," Cindy Cohn, EFF’s legal director, said in an email to TechHive.
A case known as Jewel vs NSA is also in progress, Cohn told the site. She said that the government still claims the U.S. surveillance program is a state secret.
"... After 11 years and multiple congressional reports, public admissions and media coverage, the only place that this program hasn’t been seriously considered is in the courts — to determine whether it’s legal or constitutional," Cohn added. “We look forward to rectifying that."