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A federal judge in Utah on Tuesday turned back the National Security Agency's attempt to get a lawsuit tossed out that alleges widespread illegal surveillance of phone calls, texts and emails during the 2002 Winter Games in Utah.
U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that the six plaintiffs had made legally sufficient allegations that the NSA, acting on orders of then President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, engaged in a warrantless surveillance program during the Games, which were staged about five months after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit that was filed in 2015 alleges that because the six plaintiffs worked or lived in Salt Lake City during the Games their communications were intercepted by the government.
In a motion seeking dismissal of the lawsuit, NSA attorneys argued that the allegations are "fanciful and not worthy of belief," as Shelby characterized the argument in his ruling.
But Shelby ruled that under the current state of the law, trial judges are not generally allowed to decide at this stage of a case whether allegations are based on facts.
"The court is simply in no position to evaluate at this stage of the proceeding whether the NSA engaged in the massive warrantless surveillance program plaintiffs allege," Shelby wrote in his order, "If the NSA engaged in the conduct alleged, it is presently unknown whether the plaintiffs' communications were intercepted or whether the NSA still possesses any of plaintiffs' data."
The decision likely will send the case into a fact-finding phase.