Cybersecurity & Data Privacy

AT&T NSA Surveillance

Year: 2008
Result: Congress passed law which granted immunity to AT&T

Hepting v. AT&T

Working closely with our co-counsel the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Lieff Cabraser played a leading role in the litigation against AT&T for assisting the National Security Agency to wiretap and data-mine Americans’ communications.

Plaintiffs alleged that AT&T collaborated with the NSA in a massive warrantless surveillance program that illegally tracked domestic and foreign communications — both by telephone and the internet — along with detailed records about millions of customer communications, in violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and other statutes.

The case was filed in January 2006. The U.S. government quickly intervened and sought dismissal. By the Spring of 2006, over 50 other lawsuits were filed against various telecommunications companies, in response to a USA Today article confirming that the NSA had been “secretly collection the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth.” The cases were combined into a multi-district litigation proceeding entitled In re National Security Agency Telecommunications Record Litigation, MDL No. 06-1791.

In June of 2006, the District Court rejected both the government’s attempt to dismiss the case on the grounds of the state secret privilege and AT&T’s arguments in favor of dismissal.

The government and AT&T appealed the decision and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard argument one year later. No decision was issued.

In July 2008, Congress granted the government and AT&T “retroactive immunity” for liability for their wiretapping program under amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that were drafted in response to this litigation. Signed into law by President Bush in 2008, the amendments effectively terminated the litigation.