Washington, D.C. - Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee meet Thursday to discuss letting telecoms off the hook for their role in illegal spying on millions of ordinary Americans -- a blatant attempt to block lawsuits that would determine if the surveillance is legal.

The "FISA Amendments Act" includes blanket immunity for telecommunications companies who took part in a massive warrantless domestic surveillance program to wiretap Americans' communications. However, committee member Sen. Russ Feingold says he will offer an amendment that would remove this blanket immunity from the bill. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urges lawmakers to support Sen. Feingold in holding the telecoms accountable for their involvement in the illegal spying.

"Granting immunity to the telecoms would make Congress complicit in the cover-up of illegal, wholesale warrantless spying," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "These amnesty proposals are aimed at blocking the courthouse door to millions of folks whose rights were violated by corporations that ignored both the law and their duty to keep everyday communications private and safe. We are pleased that Senator Feingold is taking a stand, and we hope that other committee members join him."

EFF represents the plaintiffs in Hepting v. AT&T, a class-action lawsuit that accuses the telecom giant of violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in the dragnet government spying. EFF's case includes undisputed evidence that AT&T installed fiberoptic splitters at its facility at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco that made copies of all emails, web browsing and other Internet traffic to and from AT&T customers on AT&T's key giant fiberoptic lines --including purely domestic communications -- and provided those copies to the NSA.

The House of Representatives may also consider an electronic surveillance bill Thursday. However, the House version of the bill does not grant immunity for telecoms, and would allow the legal cases to proceed.

For more on Hepting v. AT&T and telecom immunity:


Cindy Cohn
Legal Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Kurt Opsahl
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Kevin Bankston
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

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