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Critics say compromise bill is anything but

The U.S. House of Representatives quickly passed the FISA Amendments Act yesterday, which if made into law would expand the government's surveillance abilities and grant retroactive immunity to telecoms for their role in post-9/11 mass domestic wiretapping.

The Act, known more formally as H.R. 6304 and born after months of negotiations, represents a “bipartisan compromise” over similar legislation that died on the House floor last February.

Much of the negotiations revolved around the thorny issue of “telecom immunity,” which if included would kill the 40+ lawsuits currently in progress accusing communications providers of assisting the Bush Administration in an illegal, post-9/11 surveillance program. As the bill currently stands, a court review will determine if providers received a presidential order requesting the wiretaps – regardless of whether or not the correct warrants were filed – and then drop all pending litigation if that condition was met.

The “warrantless wiretapping” program, initiated by the Bush Administration in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, ran for almost six years until it was discovered by the New York Times.

With time running out on the country’s surveillance laws – current versions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs the nation’s surveillance activities, are set to expire in August – Congress has little time to negotiate. The Bush Administration previously took a hard-line stance against FISA updates that failed to include a provision for telecom immunity, although it was reported earlier this year that the White House decided to relax its stance.

The FISA Amendments Act “balances the needs of our intelligence community with Americans' civil liberties, and provides critical new oversight and accountability requirements,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

“The House of Representatives today has fallen down on the job,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Hugh D’Andrade. “By passing the FISA Amendments Act … [the House] voted to give this lame duck President an undeserved parting gift by passing immunity for telecoms that helped the President violate the Constitution by participating in the NSA's massive and illegal spying program.”

“Immunity for telecom giants that secretly assisted in the NSA's warrantless surveillance undermines the rule of law and the privacy of every American,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. “We are deeply disappointed that the House Leadership, which was so courageous in its previous opposition to telecom immunity, caved to the Administration's fear-mongering and put this seriously flawed legislation on the floor for a vote.”

In addition to the aforementioned telecom immunity provisions, the FISA Amendments Bill would:

  • Allow the government to conduct emergency eavesdropping without court approval for up to a week.
  • Allow secret FISA courts to review expiring surveillance orders for up to 30 days before renewing them.
  • Prohibit the government from superseding surveillance rules, even if it invokes war powers.
  • Require court permission to wiretap Americans overseas.
  • Obscure out American citizens’ names when wiretapping conversations between an American citizen and a foreigner.

H.R. 6304 passed the House 239-129, and is slated for the Senate as early as June 23.

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RE: No Problem
By abzillah on 6/21/2008 10:38:21 AM , Rating: -1
I think you miss understand what he is saying. Yes, the telecom companies have a choice to follow the order or not, but if they don't follow, the government can make them a target and give them hell, while if they choose to follow the orders, they may even gain something in the process. Just like you wouldn't do anything if the cop tells you to do when illegal, but if you have two choices of doing what the cop says and you get benefits, or you don't do anything the cop says and he bothers your for the rest of your life, we would choose the easier route. You think the telecom companies don't get any perks for following the government's orders? A favor will be paid back later with a favor. Following the government's orders, legal or illegal, is good for business.

RE: No Problem
By Ticholo on 6/21/2008 11:54:49 AM , Rating: 2
So because they "took the money", they're less guilty?
Or it's because the government was the one "handing them the money"?
Oh, wait! The government is the people, so the people paid the companies! They should sue themselves!!!

RE: No Problem
By Some1ne on 6/21/2008 3:57:24 PM , Rating: 2
Just like you wouldn't do anything if the cop tells you to do when illegal, but if you have two choices of doing what the cop says and you get benefits, or you don't do anything the cop says and he bothers your for the rest of your life, we would choose the easier route.

Just because following the order and taking the reward/payout/bribe is more convenient, that doesn't make it right.

People/business entities are just as obligated to disobey unjust orders and laws as they are to follow the just ones. And if ordered to do something illegal, then yes, they should refuse to do it, even if it means that the person giving the orders may attempt to punish them for it. That's what the judicial system is for. The government orders you to do something illegal, you refuse on the grounds that it is illegal, and then if the government tries to penalize you for refusing, you take them to court for both the initial illegal order, and for any retalliation that they tried to exact.

RE: No Problem
By lco45 on 6/23/2008 6:05:36 AM , Rating: 1
No abzillah,
If the government of your country sends some guys around to the head office and says "hey, we know it's illegal, but we really want to catch these bad guys", you should say "oh, it's illegal? How dare you ask us to do it then?".
Then the people who did the asking should go to court for breaking the law.
The laws are there because they are the laws the people want, and the current government shouldn't ask people to break them for any reason. The current government CAN ask the congress or parliament if it would be OK with everyone if the laws were changed, but they can't just go ahead and ignore them.


RE: No Problem
By nstott on 6/23/2008 11:54:46 PM , Rating: 2
Please go study US history and law before posting anymore sophomoric nonsense.

"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes
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