Bill Threatens Future of EFF Case and Other Legal Challenges

San Francisco - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said today that he has negotiated a proposed bill with the White House regarding the NSA's illegal spying program. While the final bill is not public, a draft of the bill obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a sham compromise that would cut off meaningful legal review -- sweeping current legal challenges out of the traditional court system and failing to require court review or congressional oversight of any future surveillance programs.

"This so-called compromise bill is not a concession from the White House -- it's a rubber stamp for any future spying program dreamed up by the executive," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "In essence, this bill threatens to make court oversight of electronic surveillance voluntary rather than mandatory."

Although the bill creates a process for the executive branch to seek court review of its secret surveillance programs, it doesn't actually require the government to do so. The bill would, however, require that any lawsuit challenging the legality of any classified surveillance program -- including EFF's class-action suit against AT&ampT -- be transferred, at the government's request, to the FISA Court of Review, a secret court with no procedures for hearing argument from anyone but the government. The bill would further allow the government to prevent the court from disclosing any information about the government's surveillance programs to opposing counsel, regardless of the court's strict security procedures.

"When the privacy of millions of Americans is at stake, we deserve more than a closed hearing by a secret court," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien.

For the draft of the Specter bill:


Kevin Bankston
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Kurt Opsahl
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Lee Tien
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

[Updated: 7/18 to include latest available Specter bill draft]

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