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A three judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument today in the appeal of former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio. Media interest in the case went up a notch this week after the New York Times reported new details this weekend about how Qwest and Nacchio refused to comply with a request of the National Security Agency for warrantless electronic surveillance:
….[E]xecutives at a Denver phone carrier, Qwest, refused in early 2001 to give the agency access to its most localized communications switches, which primarily carry domestic calls, according to people aware of the request, which has not been reported previously. They said the arrangement could have permitted neighborhood-by-neighborhood surveillance of phone traffic without a court order. …..NSA officials met with the Qwest executives in February 2001 and asked for more access to their phone system for surveillance operations, according to people familiar with the episode. The company declined, expressing concerns that the request was illegal without a court order. While Qwest’s refusal was disclosed two months ago in court papers, details of the NSA request were not. The agency, sources said, wanted to install monitoring equipment on Qwest’s “Class 5” switching facilities, which transmit the most localized calls. Limited international traffic also passes through the switches.
Nacchio tried to introduce classified information at trial about his meeting with NSA officials in order to establish that the feds were retaliating against him for his refusal. Judge Nottingham ruled the information irrelevant. Now, the issue is one of several that will be argued to the appeals court. The Rocky Mountain News has a summary of the issues that will be argued and each side’s position on them. I’ll be attending the oral arguments. I hope to live-blog the proceedings if the Tenth Circuit allows laptops in the courtroom, which it said it would provided they weren’t distracting. I hope you’ll stop back this afternoon as I do my best to play court reporter while typing quietly.