CHICAGO -- A lawsuit filed Monday on behalf of author Studs Terkel and other professionals seeks to stop AT&T from giving customer phone records to the National Security Agency without a court order.
The plaintiffs, who also include a doctor and a state lawmaker, said they rely on confidentiality in their work and are worried their clients will be less likely to phone them if they think the government collects lists of the numbers they are calling.
USA Today reported on May 11 that AT&T and other phone companies complied with an NSA request for the phone records of millions of ordinary Americans after the Sept. 11 attacks.
San Antonio-based AT&T said Monday it's obliged to assist government agencies responsible for protecting the public, as allowed within the law.
The six plaintiffs, whose legal team includes lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, claim the telephone giant violated the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which prevents phone companies from releasing records to the government unless there is an emergency.
The lawsuit, filed in federal district court, seeks to include all Illinois AT&T customers as plaintiffs in a class action. The plaintiffs are not seeking monetary damages.
"Having been blacklisted from working in television during the McCarthy era, I know the harm of government using private corporations to intrude into the lives of innocent Americans," Terkel said in a statement. "When government uses the telephone companies to create massive databases of all our phone calls it has gone too far."
Harvey Grossman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois said the NSA program could interfere with the ability of lawyers to deal with their clients and doctors to communicate with patients.
The plaintiffs besides Terkel are State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago; Rabbi Gary Gerson of Temple B'nai Abraham Zion in Oak Park; Diane Geraghty, a Loyola University law professor; attorney James Montgomery, former corporation counsel for the City of Chicago; and Dr. Quinten Young, a doctor and advocate for health care reform.
The action follows similar lawsuits filed in other states.
The Bush administration has urged a judge to dismiss a similar case, saying it threatens to divulge state secrets and jeopardize national security. The government argued in briefs that the courts cannot decide the constitutionality of the president's asserted wartime powers to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.
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