Lawmakers Reach Deal Over Government Surveillance Powers

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From the Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON — After more than a year of partisan acrimony over government surveillance powers, Democratic and Republican leaders have agreed to a bipartisan deal that would be the most sweeping rewrite of spy powers in three decades. The House is likely to vote on the measure Friday, House aides said.

Removing the final barrier to action on the measure, which has been hashed out in recent weeks by senior lawmakers in both parties, House Democratic leaders decided to allow a vote on the bill, despite the opposition of many in their party.

The new agreement broadens the authority to spy on people in the U.S. and provides conditional legal immunity to companies that helped the government eavesdrop after the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to congressional aides in both parties.

Late Update: The deal-maker was offering some retroactive immunity to the telecom companies who have already participated in the program.

Critical to sealing the deal was a compromise that would grant conditional immunity to telecommunications companies for assistance they provided from September 2001 through January 2007. If the companies can show a federal district court judge “substantial evidence” they received a written request from the attorney general or head of an intelligence agency stating the president authorized the surveillance and determined it to be lawful, the cases against them will be dismissed.

We haven’t heard what “conditional” means.

Politico reports that the House Democrats have agreed to vote for it, possibly tomorrow.

Late Update: The Electronic Frontier Foundation says the deal offers broad immunity and says the Democrats caved in to pressure from the telecom industry and the White House.

“Whatever gloss might be put on it, the so-called ‘compromise’ on immunity is anything but: the current proposal is the exact same blanket immunity that the Senate passed in February and that the House rejected in March, only with a few new bells and whistles so that political spinsters can claim that it actually provides meaningful court review,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. “We call on all members of Congress to reject this sham compromise and maintain the rule of law, rather than deprive the millions of ordinary Americans whose privacy rights were violated of their day in court.”

EFF is representing plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit of AT&T customers who claim their records were illegally handed over to the National Security Agency (NSA).