The United States of AT&T

by emptywheel, The Next Hurrah

Back in June, the Bush Administration invited one of AT&T's key lobbyists, Ed Gillespie, to serve as White House counselor. A few weeks after that, BushCo expanded AT&T's resident lobbyist's role to include most of Karl Rove's portfolio. Just days after Gillespie took over that role, the DOJ made an unusual intervention into the FCC's request for comments on Net Neutrality, weighing against Net Neutrality.

Well today, one of AT&T's former key attorneys, Peter Keisler, just took over the Department of Justice.

In the late 1990s, Keisler represented AT&T before SCOTUS in a case divvying up authority over how the 1996 Telecom Act would be implemented. He represented AT&T and other telecom companies fighting local ordinances limiting the acts of telecommuncation companies.

In early 2001, Keisler helped AT&T win the dismissal of a lawsuit that charged AT&T had illegally shared private information (a customer's unlisted phone number) with AT&T's credit division.The Second Circuit ruled that transfer of such personal information does not incur damages, and therefore private citizens cannot sue.

In June 2006, Keisler was one of a number of government lawyers arguing that New Jersey had no legal authority to subpoena documents relating to AT&T's and other telecomm companies' participation in the warrantless wiretapping program. Also in June 2006, Keisler invoked state secrets in Hepting v. AT&T, an attempt to scuttle the citizen lawsuits on the warrantless wiretap program.

In other words, both in and out of government, Keisler has represented AT&T's interests masterfully.

Which makes it rather disconcerting that the AG has the authority to authorize telecomm companies to cooperate in government spying.

(ii)Notwithstanding any other law, providers of wire or electronic communication service, their officers, employees, and agents, landlords, custodians, or other persons, are authorized to provide information, facilities, or technical assistance to persons authorized by law to intercept wire, oral, or electronic communications or to conduct electronic surveillance, as defined in section 101 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, if such provider, its officers, employees, or agents, landlord, custodian, or other specified person, has been provided with—
(A) a court order directing such assistance signed by the authorizing judge, or

(B) a certification in writing by a person specified in section 2518 (7) of this title or the Attorney General of the United States that no warrant or court order is required by law, that all statutory requirements have been met, and that the specified assistance is required,

Basically, Bush just gave AT&T the ability to have its long-time lawyer give it legal authority to collaborate with the government to spy on citizens.

And in case you're worried that AT&T is stuck with no good legal representation, having lost Keisler, rest assured. You see, former Associate White House Counsel Brad Berenson (who also happens to be Kyle Sampson and Susan Ralston's lawyer) has taken over for Keisler and is working on the AT&T case, among other things.

article originally published at http://thenexthurrah.typepad.com/the_next_hurrah/2007/09/the-united-stat.html.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey