The largest telecoms company in the US, Verizon Communications Inc, has been hit with a class action lawsuit after a lawyer alleged that it has illegally collaborated with a wiretapping operation conducted by one of the most secretive intelligence agencies in the US.
According to the lawsuit, the National Security Agency (NSA) primarily has been conducting a comprehensive and warrantless electronic surveillance program that ignored the careful safeguards set forth by Congress. The suit goes on to call this the largest invasion of privacy ever devised.
In a statement, the lawyer Mr Pascazi says this surveillance program, purportedly authorized by the President at least as early as 2001, allegedly intercepts and analyzes the communications of millions of ordinary Americans. The NSA alleged uses its computers to data-mine the contents of these Internet and telephone communications for suspicious names, numbers, and words, and to analyze data traffic indicating who is calling and emailing whom, in order to identify persons who may be linked to suspicious activities, whether directly or indirectly. To accomplish such a feat the government requires the collaboration of major telecommunications companies to implement the NSA’s unprecedented and illegal domestic wiretapping program.
According to Pascazi, Verizon has given the NSA direct access to its telecommunications facilities and databases, thereby disclosing to the government the contents of its customers’ and others’ communications as well as detailed communications records.
He believes that Verizon has given the US government unfettered access to its 19,000 gigabyte plus databases. By opening its network and databases to wholesale surveillance by the NSA, Verizon has violated the privacy of its customers and the people they call and email, as well as broken longstanding communications privacy laws.
Pascazi filed the suit in a US District Court in New York, on behalf of a nationwide class of persons and seeks to hold Verizon responsible for its alleged illegal collaboration in the government’s domestic wiretapping program. The suit estimates and alleges damages totaling $20bn.
In response, Randal S Milch, Verizon’s senior vice president of legal and external affairs, called the lawsuit completely without merit.
Verizon is in full compliance with the law, he added.
The National Security Agency/Central Security Service is America’s highly secretive cryptologic organization. The Agency collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign electronic signals for national foreign intelligence and counter-intelligence purposes, as well as to support military operations. It is also tasked with preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to classified national security information. It is said to be the largest employer of mathematicians in the US and is said to be one of the largest employers in Maryland.
Neither the number of employees nor the size of the Agency’s budget are publicly disclosed. However, if the NSA/CSS (Central Security Service) were considered a corporation in terms of dollars spent, floor space occupied, and personnel employed, it would rank in the top 10% of the Fortune 500 companies.
Pascazi did not respond to ComputerWire’s request for an interview.
Late last month, the second largest telecoms company in the US, AT&T Inc (formerly SBC Communications Inc). was sued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil-liberties group, over the same wiretapping program. That suit also sought billions of dollars in damages.
The lawsuit against Verizon comes as search engine giant Google Inc formally rejected a demand from the US government to hand over a week’s worth of search records (see separate article). Google said the request would violate the privacy of its users and reveal trade secrets to its rivals. It also added that handing over the data was impractical and would not accomplish what the government wanted.