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Hoyer Helped Broker Warrantless Surveillance Immunity for Telecomm Companies

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The County Times Newspaper

The Southern Calvert Gazette Newspaper

Posted on June 19, 2008

WASHINGTON (June 19, 2008) -- Steny Hoyer (D-MD-5th) was a key player in a bipartisan compromise announced today to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The FISA Amendments Act, H.R. 6304, in part provides legal immunity to the nation's telecommunications companies who helped the federal government with a warrantless surveillance program, which in part gathers information about the phone records of American citizens.

According to a May 11, 2006 report by USA Today, "The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime."

Since the surveillance program became public there have been close to 50 lawsuits filed against the companies involved and the government.

The immunity, in addition to freeing the telecommunications companies from further legal woes, would have the effect of killing the legal discovery process which could reveal more details regarding the timeline of the program and how the information was gathered and used.

The immunity clause has been sought by the Bush Administration and Republican law makers.

Public outcry to the immunity has been sufficient enough to foil the move up until today's announcement.

Proponents of the surveillance program say it is in response to the attacks on 9/11 and necessary to combat terrorism. However, the Washington Post reported on Oct. 13, 2007 that former Qwest executive Joseph Nacchio said in court papers, "the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks."

Qwest is the one telecommunications company who reportedly refused to cooperate with the NSA on the grounds they believed doing so would have been illegal.

In a press release issued around Noon today regarding the compromise bill, Hoyer made no mention of the immunity provision. The statement was jointly issued by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John “Jay” Rockefeller (WV), Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chair Kit Bond (MO), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD), and House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (MO).

“This bipartisan bill balances the needs of our intelligence community with Americans’ civil liberties, and provides critical new oversight and accountability requirements,” said Hoyer in the press release. “It is the result of compromise, and like any compromise is not perfect, but I believe it strikes a sound balance. Furthermore, we have ensured that Congress can revisit these issues because the legislation will sunset at the end of 2012.”

The FISA Amendments Act, H.R. 6304, is expected to be voted on in the House on Friday.

Immunity Clauses from FISA Amendments Act, H.R. 6304

SEC. 803. PREEMPTION.

(a) IN GENERAL.—No State shall have authority to—

(1) conduct an investigation into an electronic communication service provider’s alleged assistance to an element of the intelligence community;

(2) require through regulation or any other means the disclosure of information about an electronic communication service provider’s alleged assistance to an element of the intelligence community;

(3) impose any administrative sanction on an electronic communication service provider for assistance to an element of the intelligence community; or

(4) commence or maintain a civil action or other proceeding to enforce a requirement that an electronic communication service provider disclose information concerning alleged assistance to an element of the intelligence community.

(b) SUITS BY THE UNITED STATES.—The United States may bring suit to enforce the provisions of this section.

(c) JURISDICTION.—The district courts of the United States shall have jurisdiction over any civil action brought by the United States to enforce the provisions of this section.

(d) APPLICATION.—This section shall apply to any investigation, action, or proceeding that is pending on or commenced after the date of the enactment of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008.


RELATED INFORMATION:

Former CEO Says U.S. Punished Phone Firm
Qwest Feared NSA Plan Was Illegal, Filing Says
Washington Post, October 13, 2007
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/12/AR2007101202485_pf.html

NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls
USA Today, May 11, 2006
http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2006-05-10-nsa_x.htm

The FISA Amendments Act, H.R. 6304
http://majorityleader.house.gov/docUploads/FISAINTRO_001_xml.pdf

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