A federal judge will examine classified documents to determine whether a national security privilege applies in a case about claims that AT&T Inc. assisted with a domestic spying program.
U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco, in an order this week, said he would review the documents as part of a request by the Justice Department to halt the trial until the state secrets issue was addressed.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy-rights group, has argued that the case could proceed based on publicly available information, including the government's admissions about its wiretapping program.
The foundation sued San Antonio-based AT&T, the largest U.S. telephone company, in January. The lawsuit accuses AT&T of violating privacy rights by giving information to the National Security Agency as part of a domestic spying program. AT&T gave the NSA access to databases that held details of millions of customers' calls and Internet communications without seeking the users' permission or a court order, the complaint said.
"Without commenting on this litigation specifically, we would reiterate that we respect our customers' privacy and we comply with requests for information from law enforcement or other government agencies strictly within the law and under the most stringent conditions," AT&T spokesman Michael Coe said in an e-mailed statement.