updated 03:40 pm EST, Thu December 29, 2011
US carriers not held liable for government spying
A Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday cleared US Internet and phone carriers of liability for agreeing to warrantless wiretapping. The court determined that "national security concerns" gave enough reasons to stop lawsuits and other charges for spying on communications without a formal search order. Congress had given clearance in 2008, at the tail end of the Bush Jr. administration, and was supported by an initial rejection of lawsuits in a San Francisco court.
It's not clear whether the case can or will go to the Supreme Court.
The action has always been controversial. Many believe warrantless wiretapping violates the US Constitution's terms for reasonable search and seizure. The practice wasn't even made public knowledge until an AT&T whistleblower revealed the extent to which spying was going on.
Officials have usually insisted that the post-9/11 world demands greater powers for government surveillance, although it's not known that warrantless snooping has had a tangible effect.