Breaking with President Bush and GOP Congressional leadership, presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain said today through one of his representatives that he did not believe that Congress should immunize phone companies from liability for their participation in the NSA's warrantless wiretapping — at least not until Congress has held hearings to find out exactly what conduct was being immunized, and not until the phone companies admit to and apologize for their lawbreaking.

Threat Level's Ryan Singel reports from the Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference:

As president, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain would not support immunity for the telecoms that aided the Bush administration's warrantless spying program, unless there were revealing Congressional hearings and heartfelt repentance from those telephone and internet companies, a campaign surrogate said Wednesday.

The remarks from Chuck Fish, a full-time lawyer for the McCain campaign and a Time Warner vice president, represent a big change on the issue for McCain, who voted in February to keep immunity in the Senate spying bill. Fish was careful to say, however, that he was answering a double hypothetical question — if McCain wins, and if the issue is still alive in 2009.

"First, we need to be explicit we are not talking about granting indulgences," Fish said, clarifying that he meant forgiveness must be matched with repentance.

"There would need to be hearings to find out what actually happened and what harms actually occurred," Fish said, adding that immunity would need to be coupled with clear rules to make sure private records would be protected in future.

EFF wishes more Republicans would recognize, as their Presidential nominee does, that immunity should not even be considered until Congress has made an extensive investigation into the particulars of the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program, and that immunity certainly shouldn't be granted if the phone companies refuse to admit to and apologize for their role in the NSA spying.

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