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Dodd puts hold on Telecom Immunity Bill

Dodd puts hold on Telecom Immunity Bill

Mr. Dodd, announcing his hold on the proposed legislation, described the immunity proposal as “amnesty for telecommunications companies that enabled the president’s assault on the Constitution by providing personal information on their customers without judicial authorization.” Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic in the 1960's.

Dodd puts hold on Telecom Immunity Bill

Panel Approves Eavesdropping Compromise


Published: October 19, 2007

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 — The Senate Intelligence Committee voted Thursday night to approve compromise legislation that would strengthen court oversight of eavesdropping on Americans while granting telephone and Internet companies legal immunity for their role in assisting government surveillance programs since 2001.

After nearly five hours of closed discussions, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the Democratic chairman, and Senator Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the Republican vice chairman, emerged to announce that the measure had been approved in a 13-to-2 vote.

“There were substantial compromises on the part of all members and, frankly, of the administration,” Mr. Rockefeller said of the measure, which would expire in six years. Two Democratic senators, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Ron Wyden of Oregon, cast the no votes.

But passage in the committee came with one unexpected hitch. In an interview after the closed session, Mr. Wyden said he had succeeded, by a vote of 9 to 6, in adding an amendment that would offer additional protections by requiring that the government get a warrant whenever it wanted to wiretap an American outside the country, like an American soldier based overseas or a business person.

“The individual freedom of an American shouldn’t depend on their physical geography,” he said.

But Mr. Wyden said the administration vigorously opposed that measure and was threatening to veto any final bill if it is included.

House Democrats have also raised questions about the compromise, which emerged after the Bush administration agreed to share documents related to the secret eavesdropping program with the Senate committee. Other committees have demanded access to the same documents.

In addition, Senator Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who is running for president, announced on his campaign Web site Thursday that he would put a hold on the proposed bill. That legislative maneuver would create another obstacle.

The Senate compromise proposal is similar to a bill proposed by House Democrats. Both plans would allow the National Security Agency to seek blanket or “bundled” warrants for foreign-based communications, but they would give the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court a bigger role in the process than did the measure passed hurriedly by Congress before its August recess.

Both the Senate and the House bills would also authorize the Justice Department inspector general to conduct periodic reviews to determine whether the security agency was following court-approved guidelines.

The main difference between the two plans comes down to the question of giving immunity to the major telephone carriers — AT&T and Verizon — that are now being sued over their roles in the eavesdropping program after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The House bill does not grant immunity.

“That’s the biggest sticking point,” a senior House staff member acknowledged.

The legislation would replace the August measure that was approved in the final hours before Congress went on its summer recess. That measure expires in February.

House Democrats said Thursday that, unlike their counterparts on the Senate Intelligence Committee, they still had not been given access to classified internal documents related to the origins and framework of the N.S.A. program after months of requests. House officials made it clear in interviews that without access to those documents they would be unwilling even to consider immunity for the telecommunications companies.

The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Bond, worked out an agreement with the administration giving committee and staff members access to the documents in exchange for scheduling Thursday’s review of the bill. But just what those documents showed was a matter of intense dispute.

Mr. Feingold, who had a staff member review the classified documents at a secure location earlier in the week, came away with a different impression. Mr. Feingold said, “The documents made available by the White House for the first time this week only further demonstrate that the program was illegal and that there is no basis for granting retroactive immunity to those who allegedly cooperated.”

Mr. Feingold and other Democrats said they would oppose any efforts to give immunity to the telecommunications companies. Mr. Dodd, announcing his hold on the proposed legislation, described the immunity proposal as “amnesty for telecommunications companies that enabled the president’s assault on the Constitution by providing personal information on their customers without judicial authorization.”

Pointedly, Mr. Rockefeller refused to include in his plan immunity from civil or even criminal prosecution for government officials who took part in the security agency’s program.

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Dodd vows to filibuster Surveillance Act Date: October 27 2007 No: 1206 Dodd vows to filibuster Surveillance Act
Senator Chris Dodd vowed to filibuster the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that helped this administration violate the civil liberties of Americans. "It is time to say: No more. No more trampling on our Constitution. No more excusing those who violate the rule of law. These are fundamental, basic, eternal principles. They have been around, some of them, for as long as the Magna Carta. They are enduring. What they are not is temporary. And what we do not do in a time where our country is at risk is abandon them."

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Story Source: New York Times

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