Civil-rights groups teamed up this week with small-government supporters to slam a reported compromise that would revamp the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and allow telecommunications firms to sidestep lawsuits over their role in aiding the Bush Administration's extensive wiretap program.
The compromise, reported last week by several media sources, would allow telecommunications firms that cooperated with the Bush Administration's wiretapping program to dodge civil litigation, if they produced a letter from the government that requested surveillance, even if under dubious legal arguments.
The extensive wiretapping program, dubbed the Terrorist Surveillance Program, allegedly mined large amounts of Internet connection information and routing data and provided a dedicated surveillance circuit for government agencies without oversight in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, according to whistleblowers. The Bush Administration has maintained that the President's war-time powers allow it to supersede the limits imposed by U.S. law.
Privacy groups slammed the compromise as a thinly-veiled attempt to provide retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms.
"Whatever gloss might be put on it, the so-called 'compromise' on immunity is anything but -- the current proposal is the exact-same blanket immunity that the Senate passed in February and that the House rejected in March, only with a few new bells and whistles so that political spinsters can claim that it actually provides meaningful court review," Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said in a statement.
In March, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill known as the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, or H.R. 3773, which relaxed the restrictions on emergency warrants and granted immunity to telecommunications firms who legally assist in surveillance activities, while refusing to give immunity for past actions. Critics of the surveillance program need to continue suing telecommunications companies in an attempt to find out the extent of the U.S. government's wiretapping efforts. Lawsuits against government agencies themselves have been dismissed because of the use of state-secrets privilege to quash all requests for evidence.
The EFF, American Civil Liberties Union, and other civil-rights groups have been joined by activists connected with Rep. Ron Paul's, R-TX, presidential campaign in opposing retroactive immunity for telecoms, the ACLU said in a statement.
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Posted by: Robert Lemos