Wiretap Program Leaps Hurdle
A deal to extend the Bush administration's controversial wiretap program through at least 2012 was brokered yesterday in Congress -- a significant victory for a program that saw widespread criticism when it was first uncovered in 2005.
The agreement extends the government's ability to eavesdrop on espionage and terrorism suspects -- and effectively provides a legal escape hatch for AT&T, Verizon Communications and other telecom firms, The Post's Dan Eggen and Paul Kane report.
Aside from granting a type of legal immunity to the telecom companies, the agreement allows the government to conduct "emergency wiretaps" without court orders on Americans for up to week if the information is sensitive, fleeting and in the interest of national security.
If the agreement is approved, observers say it could count as the most radical change in the country's surveillance law in decades.
A number of telecom companies already face more than 40 lawsuits that allege they violated customers' privacy rights by helping the government conduct a "warrantless" spying program after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Yesterday's agreement makes many of those lawsuits a moot point: telecom companies will be granted immunity between Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 17, 2007, when the surveillance program was brought under the authority of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The New York Times first reported in December 2005 that the National Security Agency was authorized by the Bush administration to monitor the international telephone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens and residents without court-approved warrants.
Bush first issued a secret order in October 2001 authorizing the NSA to monitor telephone calls and e-mail between the United States and overseas if one party was thought to be linked to al-Qaeda or related groups.
The news of the domestic spying program set off a firestorm of criticism from lawmakers and civil liberties advocates and contributed to the administration's failure to persuade Congress to pass a renewed version of the USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism law.
By Derek Kravitz |
June 20, 2008; 11:19 AM ET
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