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Group seeks to begin AT

Written by: Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, May 2 (Reuters) Lawyers filed a motion seeking to start questioning AT&T Corp. officials this week about the phone company's role in a controversial government program to monitor US communications.

The request is part of a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which charges AT&T violated customer privacy by working with the National Security Agency in its program to intercept telephone and e-mail communications between the United States and people linked to al Qaeda and affiliated organizations.

President George W. Bush has said he authorized the program without court approval after the September. 11, 2001 attacks, but the program remains shrouded in secrecy.

The lawsuit by the civil liberties group seeks a preliminary injunction against the practice, with a hearing scheduled for June 21.

''The preliminary injunction motion contends that, together with the government, defendants are conducting massive suspicionless searches of many millions of domestic as well as foreign communications passing throughout their hands -- a surveillance program far broader than the one admitted to by the government so far,'' attorneys Cindy Cohn and Reed Kathrein wrote federal Judge Vaughn Walker yesterday.

''Plaintiffs seek to further confirm the broad scope of the suspicionless surveillance defendants are facilitating and to establish the absence of any judicial authorization and the absence of any lawful executive branch authorization comporting with any statutory proceeding.'' In an accompanying filing to the court, the plaintiffs asked AT&T to make officials available starting tomorrow at a law office in San Francisco for depositions in the case to discuss, among other things, their ''Secure Room'' and equipment in the secret room.

The secure room is purportedly the place where customer data and communications could be mined.

The request also sought ''the names and positions of government officials, if any, that requested AT&T Corp.'s cooperation, either in writing or orally, in conducting surveillance of communications in the United States without a court order authorizing such, the dates of all such requests and subsequent contacts.'' AT&T is the largest US provider of local and long-distance telephone services, wireless service and DSL Internet access.

In a separate court filing on Friday, the US government asked the judge to dismiss a lawsuit, saying the case could reveal military and state secrets.


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