Washington, D.C. - Both the full House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to keep telecommunications companies on the hook for their role in illegal government spying on millions of ordinary Americans -- at least for now.

The bills each make changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But, despite veto threats from the White House, neither of the two bills give blanket amnesty to telecoms that took part in the massive warrantless domestic surveillance program. Both bills would allow dozens of lawsuits against the telecoms to proceed, thus allowing federal courts to rule on whether dragnet domestic surveillance documented is legal.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) represents the plaintiffs in Hepting v. AT&T, the first class-action lawsuit accusing the telecom giant of violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in dragnet government spying on millions of Americans. While the Senate Judiciary Committee bill as written does not affect this and other lawsuits over the Administration's warrantless surveillance, provisions that allow the cases to proceed while also affording the companies some form of limited liability relief could well be added back into the bill when it is debated on the Senate floor. A conference committee will then meet to reconcile the House and Senate versions.

"We are pleased that the House and a majority of the Judiciary Committee's members have signaled that they want Americans to have their day in court," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "The fight isn't over yet, however. We look forward to working with Senators Leahy, Specter, and Feingold and other lawmakers in both chambers of Congress to make sure that the bill eventually sent to the president allows the people's lawsuits to go forward."

For more on Hepting v. AT&T and telecom immunity:


Kevin Bankston
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Cindy Cohn
Legal Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation

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