The Maine Civil Liberties Union hopes to become a defendant in a federal lawsuit pitting the state against the US Department of Justice. On August 21, the DOJ sued the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the phone company Verizon to stop the PUC from investigating whether Verizon secretly gave Mainers’ calling records to the National Security Agency as part of the war on terror. The DOJ lawsuit would also prevent any future state investigation into any cooperation between Verizon and the NSA.
Zach Heiden, MCLU staff attorney, plans to file a “request to intervene” in the DOJ suit within a week. The court, however, may not allow the MCLU to become a defendant in the case.
Pressure from the MCLU sparked the PUC’s interest in Verizon months ago. In May, the MCLU filed a complaint with the PUC on behalf of 22 Verizon clients asking the commission to investigate Verizon’s dealings with the NSA. The PUC responded by asking Verizon questions about its conduct but had not committed to a full investigation when the DOJ filed its gag suit last month.
“[Our 22 clients are] the ones who initiated this investigation and they have a right to defend it,” says Heiden. “We would be an additional party also defending the right of the Public Utilities to Commission to investigate what Verizon has been doing. We would present a distinct argument.”
On a related note, the lobbying arm of the Maine Civil Liberties Union launched its first-ever online petition on September 1 to fight, you guessed it, the feds’ efforts to stop the PUC investigation. The petition calls on US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to end the Department of Justice’s lawsuit. Rachel Myers, field organizer at the MCLU, says just under 300 people have signed the local petition so far. She plans to send it on to Gonzales at the beginning of next week. To check out the petition, go towww.mclu.org.
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