SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge has tossed out a pair of lawsuits accusing government officials during former president George W. Bush's era of "dragnet spying" on people's Internet and telephone communications.
US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker said in a written decision late Thursday that the named plaintiffs did not show they were victims of spying and therefore lacked standing to champion the class-action suits.
"A citizen may not gain standing by claiming a right to have the government follow the law," Walker wrote.
"The essence of standing is the party's direct, personal stake in the outcome as opposed to the issues the party seeks to have adjudicated in the litigation."
Walker did not rule on the charges that the National Security Agency (NSA) illegally intercepted email, text messages, telephone calls and other electronic communications of countless US citizens to unmask terrorists.
One of the lawsuits had been filed in San Francisco and the other in New York City.
The suits were consolidated before Walker, along with several dozen cases against telecommunications firms accused of helping the NSA with "blanket surveillance" of Internet and telephone exchanges during the Bush administration.
Walker last year dismissed the suits against telecom firms based on a freshly-passed law granting the companies immunity.
Appeal of the dismissals of the telecom cases is pending in court, according to Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) senior staff attorney Kevin Bankston.
Bankson vowed on Friday that the EFF will ask the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Walker's decision in the two class-action suits.
"The alarming upshot of the court's decision is that so long as the government spies on all Americans, the courts have no power to review or halt such mass surveillance even when it is flatly illegal and unconstitutional," said Bankston.
"With new revelations of illegal spying being reported practically every other week, the need for judicial oversight when it comes to government surveillance has never been clearer."
EFF lawyers argued that the NSA illegally snooped on electronic communications by AT&T customers in a secret room at one of the US telecom giant's facilities in San Francisco.
The attorneys contended that the NSA conducted "dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans" without the required legal authorization.
Justice Department lawyers countered that the lawsuit, and similar cases bundled with it, should be thrown out based on a State Secrets Privilege protecting intelligence information for the sake of national security.
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