Bush Wiretap Law Faces Legal Challenge
President Bush's summertime political victory -- the granting of immunity for telecommunications companies who allegedly helped the government illegally wiretap domestic phone lines -- is facing its first legal test today, as a watchdog group takes the government to federal court.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a high-tech watchdog group based in San Francisco, is suing the Bush administration over the 30-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was amended in July to grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in potentially illegal domestic wiretapping.
"I think it does set a very frightening precedent that it's okay for people to break the law because they can just have Congress bail them out later," the group's legal director, Cindy Cohn, told Wired. "It's very troubling."
At stake is dozens of lawsuits filed against the telecommunications companies by customers who say their privacy was violated. U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker is expected to discuss 11 key questions at length, including whether there is any precedent to the government's immunity provision.
Telephone and Internet service providers have said they received written assurances that the warrantless wiretapping program was legal at the time they agreed to participate. But the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups argue that the firms should be held to a higher legal standard for helping the government eavesdrop on their customers.
The July law allows the lawsuits against such companies to be dismissed if the government secretly certifies to the court that the surveillance did not occur, was legal or was authorized by the president.
The wiretapping agreements between the government and ATT, BellSouth (now part of ATT) and Verizon was first disclosed in May 2006 by USA Today and other news organizations. The firms provided the National Security Agency with access to customer phone records without the customers' knowledge or consent, according to the reports.
One company, Qwest, declined to participate.
The Justice Department's inspector general later found that the FBI had improperly obtained Americans' telephone and other records from telecom carriers by abusing its authority to request information. The bureau had used a form of administrative subpoena called a national security letter, or NSL.
By Derek Kravitz |
December 2, 2008; 6:15 PM ET
Previous: Ethics Questions Still Hounding Rangel | Next: Bush Eases Dumping Rules, Mumbai Attacks, FBI Snags Illinois Officers
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: bigmikecraft | December 2, 2008 6:59 PM
Posted by: forestbloggod | December 2, 2008 11:05 PM
Posted by: mikepiedmont | December 3, 2008 11:45 AM