The Immunity Deal
Republicans and Democrats in Congress reached a breakthrough compromise yesterday on a bill that would dramatically revamp the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Most significantly, the draft legislation makes legal the president's probably previously illegal National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program. If signed into law, the new bill would also immunize telecommunications companies from individual lawsuits over surveillance. (More than 40 such suits have been filed already.)
According to today's Post:
The agreement extends the government's ability to eavesdrop on espionage and terrorism suspects while effectively providing a legal escape hatch for AT&T, Verizon Communications and other telecom firms. They face more than 40 lawsuits that allege they violated customers' privacy rights by helping the government conduct a warrantless spying program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks....
Under the surveillance agreement, which is expected to be approved today by the House and next week by the Senate, telecoms could have privacy lawsuits thrown out if they show a federal judge that they received written assurance from the Bush administration that the spying was legal.
The proposal marks a compromise by Republicans and the Bush administration, which had opposed giving federal judges any significant role in granting legal immunity to the phone companies....
The immunity would cover companies that helped the government between Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 17, 2007, when the warrantless surveillance program was brought under the authority of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That program had allowed the National Security Agency to monitor communications to and from the United States without court oversight.
The retroactive legal protection would apply only in lawsuits filed against telecommunications firms. Any lawsuits against the government would proceed and would have to be defended by other means.
I also posted Dennis Kucinich arguing against changes to FISA video. Watch Video.