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July 10, 2008

1 Min Read
Telcos Land Immunity for Warrantless Wiretapping

Telecom companies including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. won a victory on Wednesday when the U.S. Senate voted to give them immunity from prosecution for warrantless wiretapping.

The protection came as part of the newly approved Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which passed in a 69-28 vote. The bill has been through several House and Senate go-arounds this year.

Telcos will only get immunity after they show district court documents that prove government officials told them to participate in a program that subverted the FISA court, a congressionally mandated body. The Bush administration instructed telcos to eavesdrop – without the FISA court’s permission – since the 9/11 attacks.

About 40 lawsuits are pending against U.S. telcos for invasion of privacy. The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), which is representing consumers against AT&T for invasion of privacy, vowed to fight the new law.

“Even though Congress has failed to protect the privacy of Americans and uphold the rule of law, we will not abandon our defense of liberty,” said Kurt Opsahl, EFF senior staff attorney. “We will fight this unconstitutional grant of immunity in the courtroom and in the Congress, requesting repeal of the immunity in the next session, while seeking justice from the Judiciary.”

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) voted for the bill; his former rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), voted against it. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee for president, was campaigning and didn’t vote.

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