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Telecom companies participated in warrantless wiretapping program: DNI

[JURIST] US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell [official profile] has confirmed that telecommunications companies have provided vital cooperation to the warrantless domestic wiretapping program [JURIST news archive], the New York Times reported Friday. In an interview [transcript] with the El Paso Times last week, McConnell called for Congress to grant immunity from prosecution to the companies that helped in the program, which allowed the US government to monitor the international communications of Americans suspected of terror links without first obtaining a warrant:

The issue was that under the president's program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us. Because if you're going to get access you've got to have a partner and they were being sued. Now if you play out the suits at the value they're claimed, it would bankrupt these companies. So my position was we have to provide liability protection to these private sector entities. So that was part of the request. ... Some wanted to limit us to terrorism. My argument was, wait a minute, why would I want to limit it to terrorism. It may be that terrorists are achieving weapons of mass destruction, the only way I would know that is if I'm doing foreign intelligence by who might be providing a weapon of mass destruction.
McConnell said that legislation was needed to protect private partners from lawsuits, such as the one spearheaded by Electronic Frontier Foundation [advocacy website] against AT&T [corporate website]. The New York Times has more.

The administration also faces legal challenges over the wiretapping program. Earlier this month, the Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website] asked a federal judge to strike down the Protect America Act 2007 [S 1927 materials; JURIST report] as unconstitutional. The new law gives the executive branch expanded surveillance authority for a period of six months while Congress works on long-term legislation to "modernize" the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text; JURIST news archive], but CCR argues that the law violates the Fourth Amendment [press release].

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