House Passes New Surveillance Bill, Sans Telecom Immunity

Well, I don’t imagine the White House is going to be pleased.
A deeply divided House approved its latest version of terrorist surveillance legislation today, rebuffing President Bush’s demand for a bill that would grant telecommunications firms retroactive immunity for cooperation in past warrantless wiretapping and deepening the impasse on a fundamental national security issue.
Congress then defiantly left Washington for a two-week spring break.
The legislation, approved 213-197, would update the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to expand the powers of intelligence agencies and keep pace with ever-changing communications technologies.
But it challenges the Bush administration on a number of fronts, by restoring the power of the federal courts to approve wiretapping warrants, authorizing federal inspectors general to investigate the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance efforts, and establishing a bipartisan commission to examine the activities of intelligence agencies in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

And, of course, the legislation passed without retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with Bush’s warrantless-wiretap program. As the WaPo explained, “Instead of granting them immunity, as the Senate has, the House measure would send the issue to a secure federal court and grant the telecommunications companies the right to argue their case before a judge with information the administration has deemed to be state secrets.”

This was all very encouraging — and a welcome example of congressional Democrats standing up to Bush on a matter of national security, Republican demagoguery notwithstanding.

What happens now? Paul Kiel offers a lay of the land.

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