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