In Courtroom Showdown, Bush Demands Amnesty for Spying Telecoms
David Kravets | December 01, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO — The Bush administration on Tuesday will try to convince a federal judge to let stand a law granting retroactive legal immunity to the nation’s telecoms, which are accused of transmitting Americans’ private communications to the National Security Agency without warrants.
At issue in the high-stakes showdown — set to begin at 10:00 a.m. PST — are the nearly four dozen lawsuits filed by civil liberties groups and class action attorneys against AT&T, Verizon, MCI, Sprint and other carriers who allegedly cooperated with the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program in the years following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The lawsuits claim the cooperation violated federal wiretapping laws and the Constitution.
In July, as part of a wider domestic spying bill, Congress voted to kill the lawsuits and grant retroactive amnesty to any phone companies that helped with the surveillance; President-elect Barack Obama was among those who voted for the law in the Senate. On Tuesday, lawyers with the Electronic Frontier Foundation are set to urge the federal judge overseeing those lawsuits to reject immunity as unconstitutional. At stake, they say, is the very principle of the rule of law in America.