Courts: Wiretap Victims Can Sue US, But Not Companies

Court Upholds 'Retroactive Immunity' for Telecoms

In a pair of major rulings related to the massive warrantless wiretapping scandal of the past several years, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the “retroactive immunity” from lawsuit granted by the US Congress to telecoms that unlawfully cooperated with the wiretaps is constitutional.

On the other hand, the court also ruled that individual victims of the wiretapping scheme have the right to sue the US government for its role in the taps, allowing the Jewel v. NSA trial to proceed.

The decision in the first case, Hepting v. AT&T, came in part on the basis of the other case, with the ability to sue the government seen as a key point in favor of protecting the telecoms. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which was involved in the lawsuits, says it believes the Obama Administration will continue to try to bury Jewel v. NSA on “national secrecy” grounds, but that similar cases have already rejected that line of defense.

The Hepting v. AT&T case was filed in 2006 on behalf of Tash Hepting around the company giving the NSA full access to its databases in aiding illegal wiretaps. The Jewel v. NSA case was filed in September 2008 on behalf of Carolyn Jewel and others (including Hepting) charging the NSA with soliciting the illegal access and performing the illegal wiretaps.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of