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Phone giant loses bid for documents, but suggests helping NSA legally authorized

[JURIST] Lawyers for telecommunications giant AT&T made what turned out to be an unsuccessful bid in federal court in San Francisco Wednesday for the return of documents collected by a former AT&T technician that supposedly detail co-operation between the company and the US National Security Agency [official website] in the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive], but suggested in the meantime that the co-operation may have been authorized and even required by federal law. Judge Vaughn Walker said the documents at issue could be used [EFF press release] in a lawsuit [EFF materials] brought against the company by the Electronic Frontier Foundation [advocacy website], but ruled that they had to remain sealed for the time being until it was determined whether releasing them would divulge trade secrets. Representing the company, former White House associate counsel Bradford Berenson nonetheless claimed that AT&T was an "innocent bystander" in the surveillance operation as its co-operation was legally authorized, a possible reference to a statutory obligation to co-operate with the government under the terms of 18 USC 2511 [text] so long as there is certification by the US Attorney General that "no warrant or court order is required by law."

Walker has yet to address an AT&T motion to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction and a US Department of Justice motion to dismiss on grounds that the case endangers military and governmental secrets [JURIST report]. The next hearing in the case is set for June 23. AP has more. CNET has additional coverage.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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