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Senate Joins House in Caving to White House Immunity Demands

July 9, 2008

Senate Joins House in Caving to White House Immunity Demands

Telecoms Let Off the Hook for Illegal Spying - For Now

Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Senate this afternoon passed the FISA Amendments Act, broadly expanding the president's warrantless surveillance authority and unconstitutionally granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the president's illegal domestic wiretapping program. The House of Representatives passed the same bill last month, and President Bush is expected to sign the legislation into law shortly.

"It is an immeasurable tragedy that just after its return from the Fourth of July holiday, the Senate has chosen to pass a bill that betrays the spirit of 1776 by radically expanding the president's spying powers and granting immunity to the companies that colluded in his illegal surveillance program," said Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "This so-called compromise bill represents a shameful capitulation to the overreaching demands of an imperial president. As Senator Leahy put it in yesterday's debate, the retroactive immunity provision of the bill upends the scales of justice and makes Congress and the courts handmaidens to the White House's cover-up of its illegal surveillance program."

The FISA Amendments Act won passage after several amendments intended to remove or modify the bill's immunity provision failed to pass. One amendment, offered by Senator Christopher Dodd, would have stripped immunity from the bill altogether. Another, introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman, would have stayed the pending cases against the telecoms and delayed the implementation of the immunity provision until the Inspectors General of the Department of Justice and other U.S. government intelligence agencies finished their investigation into the spying program, thereby preventing Congress from granting immunity in the dark.

"We thank those senators who courageously opposed telecom immunity and vow to them, and to the American people, that the fight for accountability over the president's illegal surveillance is not over," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "Even though Congress has failed to protect the privacy of Americans and uphold the rule of law, we will not abandon our defense of liberty. We will fight this unconstitutional grant of immunity in the courtroom and in the Congress, requesting repeal of the immunity in the next session, while seeking justice from the Judiciary. Nor can the lawless officials who approved this massive violation of Americans' rights rest easy, for we will file a new suit against the government and challenge warrantless wiretapping, past, present and future."

EFF is representing the plaintiffs in Hepting v. AT&T, a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of millions of AT&T customers whose private domestic communications and communications records were illegally handed over to the National Security Agency (NSA). EFF has been appointed co-coordinating counsel for all 47 of the outstanding lawsuits concerning the government's warrantless surveillance program.

For more information on the NSA spying:
http://www.eff.org/issues/nsa-spying

Contacts:

Kevin Bankston
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
bankston@eff.org

Kurt Opsahl
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
kurt@eff.org

Rebecca Jeschke
Media Coordinator
Electronic Frontier Foundation
press@eff.org

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