July 8, 2008 | By Tim Jones

Senate Begins Final Debate on Retroactive Immunity

The final Senate debate on the dangerously flawed FISA Amendments Act began this morning. Senator Feingold spoke at length in favor of Senator Dodd's amendment to strip retroactive immunity from the bill:

...Granting retroactive immunity under these circumstances will undermine any new laws that we pass regarding government surveillance. If we want companies to follow the law in the future, it sends a terrible message, and sets a terrible precedent, to give them a "get out of jail free" card for allegedly ignoring the law in the past...

And that’s not all. Mr. President, this immunity provision doesn’t just allow telephone companies off the hook. It also will make it that much harder to get to the core issue that I’ve been raising since December 2005, which is that the President broke the law and should be held accountable. When these lawsuits are dismissed, we will be that much further away from an independent judicial review of this illegal program.

On top of all this, we are considering granting immunity when roughly 70 members of the Senate still have not been briefed on the President’s wiretapping program. The vast majority of this body still does not even know what we are being asked to grant immunity for. Frankly, I have a hard time understanding how any Senator can vote against this amendment without this information.

This morning also saw an excellent editorial in the New York Times outlining the reasons why this bill should not be passed:

Proponents of the FISA deal say companies should not be “punished” for cooperating with the government. That’s Washington-speak for a cover-up. The purpose of withholding immunity is not to punish but to preserve the only chance of unearthing the details of Mr. Bush’s outlaw eavesdropping. Only a few senators, by the way, know just what those companies did.

Restoring some of the protections taken away by an earlier law while creating new loopholes in the Constitution is not a compromise. It is a failure of leadership.

EFF calls on the Senate to reject the FISA Amendments Act. It's a get out of jail free card, it's a cover-up, it will place a Congressional seal of approval on illegal activity, and it will be used to justify invasive surveillance powers with no accountability or oversight for years to come.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday morning. Phone your Senator now and tell them where you stand.


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