Thursday, June 19, 2008

Administration, Congress Settle Dispute Over Surveillance

Administration, Congress Settle Dispute Over Surveillance

Deal Would Provide Some Telecom Immunity, Extend Government Powers

By Paul Kane and Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 19, 2008; 12:33 PM

The White House and Congress today reached a deal on the most comprehensive overhaul of the nation's intelligence surveillance laws in 30 years. It would provide potential retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that previously cooperated with the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program and extend government surveillance powers.

After months of negotiations between President Bush's top advisers and congressional leaders, the deal was announced today and set to be approved on the House floor tomorrow. Senate passage of the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which had been held up since last summer largely because of fights about the immunity provision, would likely come next week.

Some Democratic leaders have argued that the bill does not go far enough in protecting civil liberties. They were backed by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups that have filed lawsuits against telecommunications companies for helping the government monitor phone calls and e-mails into an out of the United States without warrants after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

A key element of the new plan would give U.S. district courts the chance to evaluate whether telecommunications companies deserve retroactive protection from lawsuits. A previous proposal offered by Republicans would have put the question to the secret FISA court that approves the warrants.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), who has been the lead Democratic negotiator with the White House and congressional Republicans, said this week that the bill is much better than the version approved earlier this year by the Senate, which allowed for no court review of telecom immunity.

"It will accommodate the protection of civil liberties going forward," Hoyer said yesterday.

But the outlines of the deal bode poorly for more than 40 lawsuits filed against telecommunications providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Sprint for providing vast troves of customer data to government investigators after the terrorist attacks.

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and leaders of the intelligence community have warned that if a deal to overhaul FISA were not struck this summer, valuable information that could help forestall terrorism might have been lost.

Democrats fought the administration over the immunity provision for the warrantless wiretapping program -- which many civil libertarians viewed as unconstitutional -- and delayed passage of the FISA overhaul. Instead, they passed the Protect America Act last August, providing some of the new laws needed to monitor suspected terrorists. FISA Court orders that allowed continued surveillance while the legislation was debated are scheduled to expire early this August, according to administration officials.

Critics question whether the data really would have been unavailable and whether the administration is citing a possible intelligence gap for political gain.

"It looks like it was all give from the Democratic side and all take from the Republican side," said Caroline Frederickson, a Washington based lobbyist for the ACLU.


The WAPO closed comments for this article, I guess they knew there would be thousands of comments about this deal. This deal does nothing for the average American excpet tell us that our civil liberties are toast. If giving President Bush and VP Cheney the power to use our telephone lines and computers to spy on every user in the United States, and protect the telecom industry from lawsuits arising out of their willful compliance with DOJ requests.

I feel that this is NOT one of the Congresses finest an American I am ashamed to see this deal what country is this again?

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