Bush urges telecom immunity in proposed surveillance bill

[JURIST] US President George W. Bush Wednesday called for Congress to make permanent [press release] the expansion of surveillance powers granted in August's Protect America Act [S 1927 materials], adding that he would not sign any eavesdropping bill that does not grant retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies facing lawsuits related to government eavesdropping that was conducted without a court order. Bush's demand comes a day after House Democrats introduced [JURIST report] the RESTORE Act of 2007 ("Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed and Effective Act of 2007") [draft text, PDF; summary, PDF], which would replace the Protect America Act as an update to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive]. The temporary Protect America Act [RESTORE vs. PAA comparison, PDF] is set to expire in February. Its six-month lifespan was a compromise that allowed it to be passed [JURIST report] before Congress left for a summer break.

The RESTORE Act would allow for greater oversight of government wiretapping and reaffirm that FISA warrants are required when domestic communications are targeted. Bush characterized the changes as a step backward, but expressed optimism that his administration could find a common ground with Congress. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) [official website] recognized before Bush's statement that Bush would likely demand immunity for telecommunications companies, and indicated that Democrats may be willing to compromise [AP report] on that front. AP has more.

 

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