Washington D.C. - Three powerful House Commerce Committee Chairmen strongly urged their colleagues Thursday to defer acting on requests for retroactive immunity and to demand more information from the White House and the telecommunications companies in the wake of disclosures by another whistleblower that the government apparently has been granted an open gateway to wireless communications by a major telecommunications company.

Babak Pasdar, a computer security consultant, has gone public about his discovery of a mysterious "Quantico Circuit" while working for an unnamed major wireless carrier. Pasdar believes that this circuit gives the U.S. government direct, unfettered access to customers voice calls and data packets. These claims echo the disclosures from retired AT&T technician Mark Klein, who has described a "secret room" in an AT&T facility.

The White House is putting heavy pressure on lawmakers to grant the telecoms immunity from lawsuits over the spying as part of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) legislation pending in Congress. But in today's letter -- written by John Dingell, Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; Ed Markey, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet; and Bart Stupak, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations -- the congressmen argue lawmakers must not "vote in the dark" on the immunity issue when "profound privacy and security risks" are involved.

"When you put Mr. Pasdar's information together with that of AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein, there is troubling evidence of telecom misconduct in massive domestic surveillance of ordinary Americans," said Cindy Cohn, Legal Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "Congress needs to have hearings and get some answers about whether American telecommunications companies are helping the government to illegally spy on millions of us. Retroactive immunity for telecom companies now ought to be off the table in the ongoing FISA debate."

EFF represents the plaintiffs in Hepting v. AT&T, a class-action lawsuit brought by AT&T customers accusing the telecommunications company of violating their rights by illegally assisting the National Security Agency in widespread domestic surveillance. The Hepting case is just one of many suits aimed at holding telecoms responsible for knowingly violating federal privacy laws with warrantless wiretapping and the illegal transfer of vast amounts of personal data to the government.

For the full letter:

For more on the telecoms' role in warrantless spying:


Cindy Cohn
Legal Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Kurt Opsahl
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Related Issues