Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a surveillance bill that did not grant immunity to lawbreaking telecoms. At the time, many predicted a bitter showdown, because a different congressional committee had previously passed a bill that granted immunity. That showdown begins now, as the Senate Majority Leader prepares to choose a version for the full Senate to vote upon, setting the stage for a broader battle between granting immunity or rightfully letting the cases against lawbreaking telecoms continue unassailed.
To clarify, the most recent proposal by the Senate Judiciary Committee does not include telecom immunity and calls for court oversight of spying operations. The older proposal by the Senate Intelligence Committee does include telecom immunity and has weaker civil liberties protections overall. Though both bills have flaws, the version reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee is better in its approach to effective foreign surveillance and protecting Americans' civil liberties.
Ultimately, it falls to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to choose which version is brought on the Senate floor -- this is why 14 Senators have sent a letter to Sen. Reid, asking him to start with the Senate Judiciary version. In the letter, the Senators express a desire to start with a bill that was crafted more openly, that features more court oversight, and that does not provide immunity for telecoms believed to have cooperated in warrantless wiretapping.
The Senate may vote on surveillance legislation as early as next week, so the fight begins here. Stay tuned for more updates and actions you can take to help prevent the Senate from immunizing the telecoms, potentially interrupting the judicial process for millions of Americans affected by warrantless spying.