House Democrats Reject Telecom Immunity

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on March 11, 2008

House Democratic Majority Leader/AP: “Locked in a standoff with the White House, House Democrats on Tuesday maintained their refusal to shield from civil lawsuits telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on their customers without a secret court’s permission. But they offered the companies an olive branch: the chance to use classified government documents to defend themselves in court. House Democratic leaders unveiled a bill that they hoped would bridge the gap between the electronic surveillance bill passed by the Senate last month and a rival version the House approved last fall. Both bills are attempts to update the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law that dictates when the government needs court permission to conduct electronic eavesdropping inside the United States. The law has taken on particular importance in the global effort to thwart terrorists since the 2001 attacks on the United States.

  • Director of National Intelligence, March 11, 2008: “We understand that the leadership of the House of Representatives intends to introduce a new bill related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA). Based on initial summaries of what the proposal contains, we are concerned that the proposal would not provide the Intelligence Community the critical tools needed to protect the country. The Senate already has passed a bipartisan bill that would give our intelligence professionals the tools they need to keep America safe. The bipartisan bill was carefully crafted to ensure important intelligence operations were not harmed by new legislation.”
  • ACLU – New FISA Compromise Is an Improvement, Still Raises Concerns: “While we still have concerns about aspects of the new House FISA bill, the American Civil Liberties Union is encouraged by the new draft – particularly the language on state secrets, which would allow the cases to go forward while allowing the telecommunications companies to assert any defenses. We commend House leadership for keeping the courthouse door open. And in particular, we applaud the House for refusing to adopt the overreaching FISA Amendments Act, which would give the executive branch carte blanche to wiretap on US soil and grant complete retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that facilitated years of illegal surveillance. We are also heartened by the role retained by the FISA court in overseeing the program as well as the two-year sunset on the legislation.”

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