SAN FRANCISCO – A federal appeals court agreed Tuesday to review a lower court's ruling that kept alive a lawsuit challenging President Bush's domestic eavesdropping program.
The government is appealing U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's refusal to dismiss the lawsuit even though the Bush administration asserts the case could expose government secrets and put the nation at risk. Walker ruled that warrantless eavesdropping has been so widely reported that there appears to be no danger of spilling secrets.
Now the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, will decide whether Walker was correct to allow the case to proceed to trial. In its order Tuesday, the court did not indicate when it would rule.
The lawsuit, brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, challenges President Bush's assertion that he can use his wartime powers to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant. It accuses AT&T Inc. of illegally making communications on its networks available to the National Security Agency without warrants.
The president confirmed in December that the NSA has been conducting warrantless surveillance of calls and e-mails thought to involve Al Qaeda terrorists if at least one of the parties to the communication is outside the United States.
The administration contends the program is legal and necessary, but has been mum on whether purely domestic calls and electronic communications are being monitored, as the lawsuit alleges.
About two dozen cases with similar allegations against other telecommunication companies have been consolidated in Walker's court. A hearing on how to proceed with those is scheduled before Walker later this month.