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Immunity By Any Other Name

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June 17, 2008

It’s the calm before the storm, as my D.C. colleague Mandy Simon calls this week’s FISA maneuverings. The Hill reports that Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) predicts passage of Senator Kit Bond’s FISA proposal in the Senate. Bond’s FISA “compromise” cohort Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said through a spokesperson:

Whatever we produce will make the necessary fixes to the FISA law, enhance protection of civil liberties and not provide immunity to telecoms or anyone else for the president’s program.

Call us skeptical, but Bond and Co. never seemed all that concerned about protecting Americans’ civil liberties or privacy. (Especially not Rockefeller; immunity is telco money in the bank for him.)

Caroline Fredrickson, our Legislative Director, says it’s a sham, and explains why. In an email to ACLU members, Caroline says:

There’s a deeply disturbing premise behind this dangerous FISA legislation: The president simply had to claim his request was legal for immunity to be granted to telecom companies that illegally handed over personal information.

No matter how illegal, offensive or intrusive a company’s invasion of your privacy has been, it won’t make a difference, because if the president gave the company a note claiming their behavior was legal, they’re completely off the hook.

Or, as Threat Level’s Ryan Singel puts it:

That’s a slam dunk for immunity, since the existence of those request or orders already known to be true from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on warrantless wiretapping — but there is nothing in the law that says a letter from the president trumps the law’s requirement for a court order for surveillance of Americans.

We’re urging everyone to pressure their Congress members to reject this wolf in sheep’s clothing. The only “compromise” here is a compromise to all Americans’ right to privacy and due process.