The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of AT &T's business and personal customers over the US government's wiretapping of private telephone and internet records.
The organisation alleges that a secret National Security Agency wiretapping centre was set up in San Francisco with AT& T's help, and was used to process the data from millions of telephone conversations and internet sessions.
The suit has been filed against the NSA but also names president George W. Bush, vice president Dick Cheney, Cheney's chief of staff David Addington, former attorney general and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and other individuals who allegedly ordered or participated in the warrantless domestic surveillance.
"Demanding personal accountability from president Bush, vice president Cheney and others responsible for the NSA's dragnet surveillance of ordinary Americans' communications is the best way to guarantee that such blatantly illegal spying will not be authorised in the future," said EFF legal director Cindy Cohn.
"Our lawsuit today should sound a clear warning to future occupants of the White House: if you break the law and violate Americans' privacy, there will be consequences."
Under the terms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed in February, telecoms companies are exempt from any litigation if they comply with demands from the intelligence services that they hand over customer data.
Although the Act is being challenged as unconstitutional, the new legal suit will have to be fought out in the courts.
"In addition to suing AT&T, we have now opened a second front in the battle to stop the NSA's illegal surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and hold personally responsible those who authorised or participated in the spying programme," said EFF senior staff attorney Kevin Bankston.
"For years, the NSA has been engaged in a massive and massively illegal fishing expedition through AT&T's domestic networks and databases of customer records.
"Our goal in this new case against the government, as in our case against AT &T, is to dismantle this dragnet surveillance programme as soon as possible. "
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