Feds sue to stop Missouri from gaining phone record info
Washington, DC – The federal government is trying to block Missouri officials from getting information about how phone companies cooperate with the National Security Agency.
A lawsuit filed in federal court in St. Louis says any information the Missouri Public Service Commission wants to obtain could cause "exceptionally grave harm to national security."
PSC members Robert Clayton and Steve Gaw issued subpoenas last month to find out whether AT&T gave Missouri customer information and calling records to the NSA in violation of privacy rules.
The Missouri subpoenas came after a USA Today story reported that AT&T and other phone companies handed over phone records of millions of Americans to the NSA after the September 11th attacks.
A PSC spokesman had no immediate comment.
In its lawsuit, the Justice Department says the federal government has "exclusive control vis-a-vis the states with respect to foreign intelligence gathering, national security, that conduct of foreign affairs and the conduct of military affairs."
The government asserts that Missouri officials lack the power to compel AT&T and any other phone company that serves Missouri from responding to the subpoenas because highly classified and sensitive information is involved.
Responding to the lawsuit, Clayton said the government "cites no law or court order which allows AT&T to ignore or violate Missouri law."
"We in no way want to interfere with activity that relates to national security, but we have a legal and moral obligation to enforce Missouri privacy law," Clayton said. "We are asking very general questions to ensure that our own laws are being followed."
Besides AT&T, the complaint says other companies that have received subpoenas include Southwestern Bell Telephone L.P., SBC Advanced Solutions Inc., SBC Long Distance LLC, TCG St. Louis Holdings Inc., and TCG Kansas City Inc.
The government asserts that none of the listed companies that received a subpoena can lawfully respond.
Last month, the Justice Department filed a similar lawsuit against the New Jersey attorney general and other state officials to stop them from obtaining information about phone company cooperation with the NSA. The Justice Department has said more than 20 lawsuits have been filed around the country charging phone companies with illegally assisting the NSA.
In Missouri, a Cole County judge has set an Aug. 28 hearing on the request from Clayton and Gaw to compel AT&T to comply with the subpoenas.