Ex-US president George W Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and senior law enforcement officials have been named in a class-action lawsuit for authorizing blanket phone, email, and text message surveillance of Utah citizens during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
In 2013 the Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI and NSA had done a deal with telco Qwest Communications for blanket surveillance coverage for Salt Lake City during the Winter Olympics. Then-mayor Ross "Rocky" Anderson has now taken up the case and has filed the class action suit.
"This is the first time anyone knows of that a surveillance cone has been placed over a specific geographical area in the United States," he told The Register on Thursday.
"What was so alarming was that they were reading the contents of the text messages and emails."
Anderson, who served two consecutive terms as mayor between 2000 and 2008, said he had spoken to a source who had been a very senior staffer in the NSA at the time. He explained how the agency had performed blanket collection of metadata during the event, but that individuals had also been targeted to have their phone calls recorded and emails read.
Anderson explained that he went to the EFF and ACLU and asked for help with the lawsuit, but they replied that they were too busy. So he and "an amazing summer clerk" worked around the clock to get the class action suit filed before the statute of limitations ran out.
There are currently six plaintiffs, including Utah State Senator Howard Stephenson (R-Draper), former Salt Lake City Council member Deeda Seed, and local historian Will Bagley. In addition to the presidential duo, the suit names former NSA Director Michael Hayden and Cheney's attorney David Addington, who authorized the surveillance.
The case is going to prove interesting. If it is allowed to proceed, it could bring to light just how the mass surveillance introduced days after the September 11 attacks was carried out, and – crucially – if there was proper legal authority to do so.
When in office, Anderson was a vocal opponent of the domestic surveillance program carried out by the government and was a fierce critic of George Bush. He called for Bush's impeachment over the Iraq War and has been active in investigating cases of surveillance overreach. ®