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White House seeks legal immunity for firms that hand over customer data

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This is pretty rich. When Obama was running for president, he promised that he would vote against granting telecom companies immunity for simply handing over customer data when they were asked. Then he promptly voted in favor of it, and apparently he is still working to make sure telecom immunities suffer no accountability. Spencer Ackerman reports in the Guardian:

The White House has asked legislators crafting competing reforms of the National Security Agency to provide legal immunity for telecommunications firms that provide the government with customer data, the Guardian has learned.

In a statement of principles privately delivered to lawmakers some weeks ago to guide surveillance reforms, the White House said it wanted legislation protecting “any person who complies in good faith with an order to produce records” from legal liability for complying with court orders for phone records to the government once the NSA no longer collects the data in bulk.

The brief request, contained in a four-page document, echoes a highly controversial provision of the 2008 Fisa Amendments Act, which provided retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that allowed the NSA to access calls and call data between Americans and foreigners, voiding lawsuits against them. Barack Obama’s vote for that bill as a senator and presidential candidate disappointed many supporters. [Well, especially since he promised that he would vote against it—quite an explicit promise. – LG]

A congressional aide said the telecommunications companies were expected to “fight hard” for the provision to survive in any surveillance bill. Those firms, including Verizon and AT&T, have typically kept far more silent in public about NSA surveillance and their role in it than internet giants, like Yahoo and Google, which have pushed for reforms.

Unlike in 2008, the firms are not facing a spate of lawsuits, although Verizon was named as a defendant in Larry Klayman’s suit against the Obama administration challenging the constitutionality of bulk phone metadata collection.

A senior administration official noted that the provision is typical for surveillance law, to protect companies who comply with Fisa court orders for customer data.

“This would refer to any new orders issued by the court under the new regime we are proposing. This is similar to the way the rest of Fisa already operates, and Fisa already contains virtually identical language for its other provisions, including Section 215,” the official said, referring to the portion of the Patriot Act cited as justification for bulk phone data collection.

The telecommunications immunity is already contained within a bill authored by the House intelligence committee leadership, key legislative allies of the NSA.

But another aspect of the White House document points to an obstacle that congressional sources said is holding up the House intelligence bill – something its opponents consider an opportunity.

That bill, sponsored by Republican chairman Mike Rogers of Michigan and ranking Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, would permit the government to access phone records without specific prior approval by a judge. Ruppersberger said while unveiling the bill in late March that they were “very, very close” to a deal with the White House, though the principles document favors prior court orders.

“Absent an emergency situation, the government would obtain the records only pursuant to individual orders from the Foreign intelligence surveillance court approving the use of specific numbers for such queries, if a judge agrees based on national security concerns,” it reads.

Several congressional aides said that the discrepancy between the White House and the intelligence committee on the issue had stalled the momentum of a bill backed by the House leadership over a rival effort in the judiciary committee – also stalled – that would go far further in reining in bulk data collection. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2014 at 10:18 am

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