Hi, Big Brother: Senate passes bill to expand warantless wiretapping

The Senate voted Tuesday on a bill that would grant intelligence agencies permanent authority to conduct foreign intelligence without a warrant, as well as grant immunity for telecommunications companies that illegally cooperated with Bush after Sept. 11th by letting the National Security Agency eavesdrop without warrants on the international communications of Americans.

Democratic opponents, led by Senators Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, argued that the plan effectively rewarded phone companies by providing them with legal insulation for actions that violated longstanding law and their own privacy obligations to their customers. But immunity supporters said the phone carriers acted out of patriotism after the Sept. 11 attacks in complying with what they believed in good faith was a legally binding order from the president.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a member of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, said without immunity, the firms would turn down future requests for help.

So, without the immunity, the firms would turn down future requests to break the law? Isn’t that what we want? What do you think? Would you be happy if businesses violated the law and gave supposedly confidential information on your private communications to the government just because they were feeling “patriotic” and the President told them to? Well, the Senate just said that they were fine with it.

The House passed a version of the bill without the retroactive immunity clause. The difference between the House and Senate bills will have to be worked out before the bill is sent to the White House. President Bush has vowed to veto if the bill does not include the immunity clause.

We’ll keep you updated on what bill finally reaches the President’s desk, but until then, maybe it’s best to not say anything too incriminating on the phone.

Senate Votes for Expansion of Spy Program – [New York Times]

Senate OKs immunity for telecoms in intelligence bill – [CNN]

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