Today the House of the Representatives passed a Democratic bill that would set the rules for the surveillance of the emails and phone calls of people within the United States. The bill was passed among mostly partisan lines, 213-197. President Bush is certain to veto the bill because it does not provide the telecommunications companies with immunity against lawsuits stemming from their cooperation with the Bush administration’s secret domestic spying program which began after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto blasted the House bill. “Today, the House of Representatives took a significant step backward in defending our country against terrorism and passed a partisan bill that will please class-action trial lawyers at the expense of our national security. Their bill would make it easier for class-action trial lawyers to sue companies whose only “offense” is that they are alleged to have assisted in efforts to protect the country after the attacks of September 11. These companies already face multibillion-dollar lawsuits, but even the status quo — which our intelligence professionals have said is undermining our ability to get cooperation from the private sector — is better than the alternative proposed in the House bill, which would preserve these lawsuits and give trial lawyers more weapons to attack companies for doing their patriotic service.”
This bill is dead on arrival, because the Senate already passed a bill that would grant the telecom companies immunity from lawsuits. Before the vote, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) praised the House version of the bill. “The President insists that we pass the Senate bill as is. Yet even that legislation’s chief author — Chairman Rockefeller — agrees that many of the House provisions improve the Senate bill. This legislation before us today will ensure that our intelligence professionals have all the tools they need to protect the American people, and the President knows it. This legislation will also ensure that we protect what it means to be an American — our precious civil rights and civil liberties.
“I don’t think the telecom companies should be granted immunity. People forget that when the administration asked the companies to spy on Americans, they could have said no. I think it would be difficult for most people to prove that they were injured by this domestic spying program, but those who can, should be allowed to move forward with their cases. By granting the companies immunity, the administration is virtually admitting that they were doing something illegal.
I believe that the only way we are ever going to find out the depth of this program is through the courts. Everyone supports spying on terrorists, but no one should be in favor of the destruction of our civil liberties. There are better ways to gather information than turning America into an authoritarian state where Big Brother is always watching. To me, the terrorists will truly be victorious when we become so overwhelmed with fear that we let it change who we are as a nation and a people.