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Bush Wiretap Law Faces Legal Challenge

POSTED: 06:15 PM ET, 12/ 2/2008 by Derek Kravitz

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

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My phones have been taped for years, up here in the Northern Judicial District and I will tell you all why. I am bigmikecraft (Mike Craft), Meyer Lansky's last enforcer and the young man (1974) to whom Meyer gave the contracts to kill Pierre Trudeau of Canada, in order to get Fidel Castro to a State Funeral in Canada, (where I would pop him). It is cronologed on http://bigmikecraft.newsvine.com/ and Paul DiCocco also was the go-between, for Meyer, on the paid short deal to pop Ex-President Richard Nixon in the fall of 1974. I saved Nixon's life by turning Meyer over to the Commission. I was not taking any fall due to Meyer's vengence for Havana! I also paid J.Edgar, 3 times at Pimlico, before his death, for Meyer. I refused to turn in my crew in 1988 but still have a contract with the Treasury. So I guess you know why my phones are tapped! The Bureau also went to the American Media Group (National Examiner) and Laurie Cambell to keep me off the front pages. The Bureau has always tapped phones for internal information purposes. The bureau is (and I hate to say it) too intelligent to use non-court ordered information at any trial. You all, and the congress can go to court all you want, but until one of the Bureau Agents personally turns over a tapped meeting of FBI supervisors, your investigation can take a long swim in the lake! In High Mob and Intelligence circles (and I was) the knowledge of the FBI Special Intelligence Section is Known about. To the real world of regular people it has never been known about. The Special Section Unit is invisible and the elected government will never find it. As long as you give these guys a 100% Pension and perks, no one agent will ever come forward. I can compromise it, but I can not beat something that has an unlimited budget and is never used lsgally. It is only used for information! You see, J.Edgar is not really dead. Sincerely bigmikecraft.com

Posted by: bigmikecraft | December 2, 2008 6:59 PM

"retroactive immunity" is really a blanket pardon for something that was totally unnecessary.

what a precedent. if for no other reason, it should be stricken down for this alone; don't do the crime if you can't do the time.

Posted by: forestbloggod | December 2, 2008 11:05 PM

So the Bush gang swears they don't spy on the American people; but they cry to congress for immunity from spying on the American people.
Then Republican operatives at Verizon spy on Barak Obama just weeks ago? This kind of criminal activity is beyond logic.

Clearly, these people have taken a page from the Nixon "enemies List" playbook, and used the threat of terror to destroy the liberties of the American people.

Now Americans fear: who are the contractors the Bush people allowed to spy on us; what has been done with the illegally gathered information?

Millions of new jobs can be created by the new adminstration, investigating, prosecuting, & incarcerating these most UnAmerican of neofascists.

Long live true & honest Americans who do not make a mockery of the ideals we hold dear.

Posted by: mikepiedmont | December 3, 2008 11:45 AM

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