House Passes Surveillance Bill with No Telecom Immunity

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EFF Applauds House Passage of Surveillance Bill with No Telecom Immunity Bill Would Allow Spying Cases to Proceed Fairly and Securely

Washington, D.C. – This morning the House of Representatives passed a compromise surveillance bill that does not include retroactive immunity for phone companies alleged to have assisted in the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. The bill would allow lawsuits like the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s case against AT&T to proceed while providing specific security procedures allowing the telecom giants to defend themselves in court.

The House bill succeeded 213 to 197 despite the president’s threat to veto any bill that does not include immunity.

“We applaud the House for refusing to grant amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms, and for passing a bill that would allow our lawsuit against AT&T to proceed fairly and securely,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. “Amnesty proponents have been claiming on the Hill for months that phone companies like AT&T had a good faith belief that the NSA program was legal. Under this bill, the companies could do what they should have been able to do all along: tell that story to a judge.”

The Senate is expected to consider the House bill when it returns from recess on Monday, March 31. House and Senate staff are expected to spend much of the break negotiating over differences between the new House bill and a previous Senate bill that includes immunity provisions.

“This newly-passed House bill represents a true compromise on the amnesty issue: customers whose privacy was violated would get their day in court, while the companies would be allowed to defend themselves despite the Administration’s broad demands for secrecy,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. “We look forward to assisting the Senate in its consideration of this compromise solution, which EFF believes is the only reasonable response to the White House’s attempt to evade court review of its illegal spying program and the phone companies’ collaboration in it.”

EFF represents the plaintiffs in Hepting v. AT&T, a class-action lawsuit brought by AT&T customers accusing the telecommunications company of violating their rights by illegally assisting the National Security Agency in widespread domestic surveillance. The Hepting case is the leading case aimed at holding telecoms responsible for knowingly violating federal privacy laws with warrantless wiretapping and the illegal transfer of vast amounts of personal data to the government.

Contacts:

Kevin Bankston
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
bankston@eff.org

Cindy Cohn
Legal Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
cindy@eff.org

Source URL: http://www.eff.org/press/archives/2008/03/14

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