June 20, 2008
Parties Back Companies’ Immunity in Wiretapping
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
By Eric Lichtblau
After months of wrangling, Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress struck a deal Thursday to overhaul the rules on the government's wiretapping powers. The deal provides what amounts to legal immunity to the phone companies that took part in President Bush's warrantless eavesdropping after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The deal, expanding the government's powers to spy on terrorism suspects in some key respects, would strengthen the ability of intelligence officials to eavesdrop on foreign targets. It would also allow them to conduct emergency wiretaps without court orders on American targets for a week if it is determined that important national security information would be lost otherwise.
If approved, as appears likely, it would be the most significant revision of surveillance law in 30 years.
The agreement would settle one of the thorniest issues in dispute by providing immunity to the phone companies in the Sept. 11 program as long as a U.S. District Court determines that they received legitimate requests from the government directing their participation in the warrantless wiretapping operation.
With AT&T and other telecommunications companies now facing about 40 lawsuits over their reported participation in the wiretapping , Republican leaders described this narrow court review on the immunity question as a mere formality. "The lawsuits will be dismissed," Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No.2 Republican in the House, predicted with confidence.
The proposal - particularly the immunity provision - represents a major victory for the White House after months of dispute.
"I think the White House got a better deal than even they had hoped to get," said Sen. Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., who led the negotiations.
The White House immediately endorsed the proposal, likely to be voted on in the House today and in the Senate next week. While passage seems almost certain , the plan will face opposition from lawmakers in both parties .
what it means
The agreement would provide immunity to the phone companies in the Sept. 11 program as long as a U.S. District Court finds that they received legitimate requests from the government directing them to take part in wiretapping of citizens.
Originally published by BY ERIC LICHTBLAU.
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