Amicus Will Rap NSA Wiretaps

Under the cloud of a looming attempt by the federal government to jettison their suit, plaintiffs in the class action against AT&T for allegedly participating in secret wiretapping by the National Security Agency got a break Monday from U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker. He let the plaintiffs’ star witness — former AT&T engineer Mark Klein, whose evidence is at the heart of the case — file an amicus brief.

That would hardly be major news in most cases. But in the charged AT&T suit — in which even Klein, a mere witness, has a crack legal team — it means that even if the big Bell is able to keep company documents provided by Klein out of the suit, his statements will still make it in before trial starts.

And those statements could be significant. In a brief filed last week, Klein’s formidable quartet of lawyers from Morrison & Foerster and Ramsey & Ehrlich in Berkeley said the former engineer observed “that the signal carrying the Internet data over fiber optic cables was ‘split’ such that an exact copy of the data was redirected to the National Security Agency.”

With AT&T trying to force the plaintiffs to return Klein’s documents — and the government planning to file a state secrets motion Friday that could kill the case — the suit’s future is still in doubt. But one of Klein’s lawyers, James Brosnahan, said he feels the amicus brief helps push the argument that Klein’s information is suitable for the public, and not subject to classification, especially since the documents were easily accessible to rank-and-file AT&T workers. “That’s not the way you treat classified or top-secret material,” he said.

Justin Scheck

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