After everyone had a chance to sift through yesterday’s breakthrough “compromise” on a new federal surveillance law, the biggest winer of the day was not Republicans or Democrats but the telecom companies.
Today’s Washington Post summarizes the legal impact succicntly in it’s front-page story :
The agreement extends the government’s ability to eavesdrop on espionage and terrorism suspects while effectively providing a legal escape hatch for AT&T, Verizon Communications and other telecom firms. They 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.
The final compromise on the immunity issue was this: Many Democrats had wanted the federal courts to review whether the surveillance program was legal before granting immunity. The White House wanted the courts to have no involvement whatsoever. The “compromise” calls on the courts to consider the surveillance legal if the companies can prove that the Administration told them it was legal. (Which we know they did).
The Chicago Tribune reports:
The new bill would require federal courts to cast those lawsuits aside if the companies can show that they received written requests from the government stating that their cooperation was deemed lawful and had been authorized by the president.
The House is expected to vote on the measure today. Though billed as a compromise, the final version was viewed as a victory for the White House, according to the Post.
But overall, the deal appears to give Bush and his aides, including Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, much of what they sought in a new surveillance law.
As for the future of the spying program, this new law allows it to grow.
The Wall Street Journal this morning wrote:
The lasting impact of the agreement would be a broader scope for the government’s domestic surveillance.
Before 9/11, the NSA had to acquire a specific warrant if it wanted to listen to any conversation involving a U.S. citizen. Now, the secret court would be able to approve broad patterns of surveillance, focused on groups of people believed to be overseas, even if they are communicating with people in the U.S. So without a warrant, the NSA could listen to the conversation of a U.S. citizen if he or she was talking to a suspicious person overseas.
Several Democrats spoke out against the bill, but enough of them agreed to assure this version will pass into law.
Again, from the Journal:
The outcome was driven largely by the realities of election-year politics. Democrats, particularly more conservative ones, in vulnerable re-election races couldn’t afford to appear to be dodging a big national-security issue. And many believed the law needed to be updated before surveillance orders expired in August. House Democratic leaders struggled for months to find a proposal their entire party could support but couldn’t overcome splits between conservative and liberal Democrats — some of whom are reacting angrily to the deal.