House Surveillance Bill Contains Provision to Aid Telecom Suits
As The New York Times reports this morning, the House leadership's draft proposal for a surveillance bill contains a provision that would reject giving retroactive immunity to the telecoms. Instead, it would give the courts authorization to hear the classified material at issue in the case -- in essence disposing with the administration's claim of the state secrets privilege. I had a senior House aide walk me through the proposal, which is sure to infuriate the administration.
As things currently stand, if the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the plaintiff in the lead suit against AT&T, wins on the state secrets issue, the case is almost sure to be appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court. If they were to win that battle -- which will likely take a year or more -- the trial court would still be confronted with the problem of assessing the classified information. The aide said that the process outlined in the draft bill is not substantially different from the situation that would arise in that case. What the House bill essentially does is leapfrog over that issue.