November 16, 2007 7:25 AM PST

House rejects immunity for phone companies in spy suits

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to permit lawsuits that allege the illicit cooperation of telephone and Internet companies with government spy programs.

By a 227-189 vote largely along party lines on Thursday night, politicians approved the Democrat-backed Restore Act. The action, however, promptly renewed veto vows from the White House, which said the proposal "would dangerously weaken our ability to protect the nation from foreign threats."

Congressional Democrats who endorsed the bill disagreed. "Today's bill helps restore the balance between security and liberty," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat, said in a statement after the vote.

The legislation is partially an outgrowth of still-unresolved allegations that U.S. telecommunications companies provided assistance to the National Security Agency's surveillance programs in violation of federal laws since--and possibly even before--the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. The Bush administration has requested that Congress approve legislation granting retroactive legal immunity to any telecommunications company that aided government spying.

Democratic leaders deny that their bill will make it harder to spy on foreign terrorists, but Republican leaders claim that the bill contains enough loopholes to require a warrant for eavesdropping on Osama bin Laden and other foreign terrorists.

"The bill gives terrorists overseas more rights under the law, than individuals inside the U.S.," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee. "That is simply absurd."

Supporters of the House bill say it allows intelligence agents to continue to snoop on foreigners without a warrant and to obtain "basket warrants" for surveilling foreign terrorist organizations.

At the same time, supporters say, the bill will provide additional safeguards for Americans' privacy and more oversight over the shadowy court that's charged with approving eavesdropping requests when one end of the communications belongs to a U.S. person.

The legislation is part of an update to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, that the Bush administration argues is necessary to make intelligence gathering more efficient amid changing technologies.

Now focus will shift to the Senate, where a new battle over the immunity issue is likely to heat up soon.

The House vote arrived just hours after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved its own spy law rewrite but punted on the issue of whether to approve retroactive immunity for companies with access to electronic communications.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has already approved a different version of that legislation, containing a sweeping provision that would crush all pending lawsuits alleging illegal spying by companies like AT&T and Verizon Communications, as well as any future suits or state utility commission investigations.

The White House has already made it clear it vastly prefers the Senate Intelligence Committee version, but critics say that one gives the executive branch too much unchecked authority to eavesdrop, without a court order, on communications between Americans and people "reasonably believed to be outside the United States."

Both the Senate and House are attempting to craft a more permanent replacement to a Bush administration-backed temporary law called the Protect America Act, which hurriedly passed in Congress in August with what civil-liberties advocates and most Democrats said were insufficient privacy safeguards for Americans. Set to expire in early February, it currently immunizes companies that have cooperated with any government wiretapping regimes since the law was passed.

The existing law, however, does not grant immunity to companies that may have cooperated in the past. The Bush administration has been threatening to veto any bill that does not contain that retroactive protection.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), one of the Restore Act's authors, said the politicians "cannot even begin to consider this request" until they receive administration documents, which they say they requested 10 months ago, describing the telephone companies' activities in more depth.

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17 comments

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"I truly am not that concerned about him." -GWB
I am sure glad the prez is working hard to get OBL so that we can have our civil liberties back!
Posted by chris_d (195 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What a joke
What a joke of a president, the worst ever. He rambles on about the trouble in Pakistan and the limiting of freedoms while he has done so much worse at home. Oh and you got to laugh at bushies complaint that Musharraf can't be military leader and wear the uniform while president. So is georgie jealous and wants a uniform too? He should go work at Chuck E Cheese and get a uniform suited to his leadership. Impeach bush now!, and cheney!

Cart
Posted by ecartman0 (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Worse than Pakistan?
I have no love for our current president and in my view he, along with most of the current Executive Branch, should be impeached without delayl. Today, infact, would be the day to start, and we could have it done by the end of business. And then we can move on to the criminal proceeding against them. I think hanging is still the prefered penalty for traitors, right?

But all that aside, I think saying "King" George (and he has declared "Divine Right" to rule the U.S. like kings before him) has done worse than Musharaf is a little hyperbolic and really doesn't help in reasoned arguments that this administration has broken the U.S. Constitution. At least Bush hasn't completely suspended the Constitution ... yet.
Posted by worsethannormal (52 comments )
Link Flag
Civil Rights
"The bill gives terrorists overseas more rights under the law, than individuals inside the U.S.," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee. "That is simply absurd."

I agree, this is absolutely absurd...why is our government giving us less rights that Osama Bin Laden. Doesnt the idiot who wrote this understand that he is essentially admitting to taking away our civil liberties?
Posted by jjesusfreak01 (83 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Are you sure
Have you read the bill? Are you sure that this is not just simply a "talking point?" (which both sides of the ailes are notorious for using to lie to the U.S. citizenry). Seems to me you believe this statement but not the other by the supporters of the bill that refute this claim. Whether this bill does what Mr. Smith says or not, I can not attest to since I have not read it and had time to sit down and consider it's implications. But, I doubt, neither have you.

Please, get the facts and not sound bites.
Posted by worsethannormal (52 comments )
Link Flag
Terrorist Huggers Win Again
I hope those who coddle terrorists like these activists do are the first one's to be blown up by Al Qaeda when they visit American again.
Posted by WJeansonne (480 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Actually...
The real terrorist are the ones so filled with fear and hatred that they will let the government forgo any respect our liberties. If you don't want liberties than you might as well join a terrorist regime; since they more align with the government style you are looking for.

None of this helps protect the country. Remember none of the 9/11 terrorists did anything they could not do today.
Posted by umbrae (1073 comments )
Link Flag
Give me Liberty or give me...
Fine by me. Give me Libery or give me death. We are not a oligarchy under King George (hmmm sounds familiar!).

The Executive Branch MUST respect the rule of law.
Posted by rcardona2k (318 comments )
Link Flag
try
WJeansonne offered this thought to the conversation:

"I hope those who coddle terrorists like these activists do are
the first one's to be blown up by Al Qaeda when they visit
American again."

Comments like that make me realize it's hard for people like you
to think on their own, but please - for the love of our great
nation - try.

Al Qaeda will visit America again WHEN BUSH INVITES THEM TO.
OBL isn't the true enemy of our nation, he's just a fairly
intelligent pissant nuisance. The true terrorists, the real enemies
of America, are currently residing in the White House itself.

Bush allowed 9/11 to happen to further his desire for war with
Iraq. He knew it was planned from the PDB given to him in early
August (a month before it happened). The FBI was already
investigating those involved, curious as to why they were taking
flying lessons but didn't seem concerned with how to land the
freakin plane. They *knew* they were here and knew they were
planning something, they even knew *what* they were planning.
What did they do to stop it?

Consider this - all this TSA security in the airports means
nothing when year after year security testers can sneak bomb
making materials past them and onto planes.

Answer me this - do you honestly believe our military is capable
of finding Saddam hiding in a spider hole in the middle of the
Iraqi desert, yet incompetent enough to not be able to find OBL
on top of a mountain?

Do you really feel safer now? It's time to wake up from this
nightmare WJeansonne and start to repair the damage this
incompetent nazi pseudo-president has done to us. The
alternative is to stay in the nightmare and wonder in 5 years
how we got to be the next nazi Germany.
Posted by Dalkorian (3000 comments )
Link Flag
Proverb
There's a proverb, maybe you've heard it.

"Better to die free than to live as a slave"

Your ancestors fought and maybe even died so that you could live free from the tyranny of an oppressive government. Now you're virtually giving up all that they struggled for?

There are countless people out here in the real world, the free world, who would be the first in line to be killed in the next terrorist attack so that YOU could live in a free and open society.

People say that terrorists hate freedom, I say that giving up your freedoms to protect yourself from terrorism is the same thing as loosing to terrorism. Every time that the government spies on an innocent US citizen, it's another victory for terrorism. They don't need to take your freedom, you're giving it away. You're giving them a victory.
Posted by perfectblue97 (326 comments )
Link Flag
You should seriously consider moving to China
You just can't handle the consequences of living in a free society.
Posted by The_Decider (3097 comments )
Link Flag
Clearly some people have no problem with treasonous, corrupt, tyranny...
...I, however, am an American. And, in my opinion (and in the clearly-stated opinions of those that actually founded, and have fought for, this country) those, who are so clearly, supporting the effective abandonment of The -U.S. Constitution-... -The Rule of Law-... and every basic -Human-Freedom- (that those entail) are, at very best, craven little moronic-cowards... At worst, they ARE the very criminal-traitors who should be dealt with appropriately. In short, those that support "Illegal-Spying" and "Immunity" (for businesses that commit "Illegal Acts" -for- "the Government") ARE the "...domestic ...enemies" which we (as Americans) are supposed to "...defend against".

"Terrorism" isnt the real "threat"... Those, idiots and criminals, that are USING (or allowing) "terrorism" to destroy everything that the United States, stands for, ...are the REAL "enemy".
Posted by Had_to_be_said (384 comments )
Link Flag
Worst. President. Ever.
Worst. President. Ever.

Feel free Bushy to veto this, but as soon as you're gone, you entire administration and the criminals that run it will be probed, tried and jailed come 2008.

The phony president.
Posted by FrankTurd (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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