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Attorneys File Lawsuits Against Verizon, AT&T, BellSouth for Violation of Privacy Laws [06/29/2006]
Lawyers have recently filed class action lawsuits on behalf of millions of persons in the United States who are residential customers of telephone or Internet services provided by Verizon, AT&T and BellSouth. The Complaints allege that the National Security Agency ("NSA") began a classified surveillance program shortly after September 11, 2001, to intercept the telephone and Internet communications of persons inside the United States without judicial authorization, a program that continues to this day. As part of the program, the NSA intercepts millions of communications made or received by people inside the United States, and uses powerful computers to scan their contents for particular names, numbers, words or phrases.

According to the Complaints, the Attorney General has admitted that, absent additional authority from Congress, the electronic surveillance conducted by the Program requires a court order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The President and other government officials have admitted that the NSA does not seek judicial review of the Program's interceptions before or after the surveillance, whether by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or any other court.

The plaintiffs claim that in violation of the Electronic Privacy Act of 1986, Verizon, AT&T and BellSouth provided customer records to the government. The privacy Act bars the telephone carriers from turning over information about calls except in extremely limited circumstances. The suit seeks the minimum penalty of $1,000 for each person whose information was compromised.

"The phone companies that participated in this surveillance program could be on the hook for billions of dollars in damages," said an attorney for the plaintiffs. "It appears that the telephone companies turned over millions of records and the privacy act provides of a minimum penalty of $1,000."

The lawsuit involves any residential customer of Verizon, AT&T and Bellsouth who telephoned overseas.

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