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N.J. presses U.S. on program of clandestine surveillance
It contends the program violates the state's rules protecting the privacy of telephone subscribers.

Beth Defalco / AP | September 12 2006

TRENTON - New Jersey has the right to obtain information about a federal domestic-surveillance program because that program is no longer a secret, the state argued in response to federal efforts to quash its investigation.

The U.S. Justice Department wants to throw up "an impenetrable cloak insulating the federal government's domestic-surveillance activities from all judicial scrutiny," acting New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram said yesterday.

New Jersey prosecutors subpoenaed 10 phone companies in May because of suspicion that state consumer-protection laws were being violated if phone companies were turning over records to the National Security Agency.

The federal government countersued the New Jersey Attorney General's Office in June, contending that complying with the state's subpoenas or even acknowledging the existence of such a program would threaten national security.

The state, in its response filed late Friday, argued: "There is no secret for the state-secret privilege to protect."

New Jersey Public Advocate Ronald K. Chen argued that the federal government has no authority to sue state officials unless Congress authorized the action, which it has not.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller declined to comment, saying only that federal prosecutors would "respond in court."

The program monitors international phone calls and e-mails to or from the United States involving people the government suspects have terrorist links. A secret court has been set up to grant warrants for such surveillance, but the government says it can't always wait for a court to take action.

The federal government considers the program vital to fighting terrorism, but critics say it unconstitutionally gathers private information.

Federal officials have objected to efforts by several states and civil-liberties groups to investigate or shut down the NSA program. Most recently, the United States sued a Connecticut agency last week and Maine utility regulators last month.


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