The ACLU of Southern California condemned the U.S. Senate for caving in to Bush Administration pressure to authorize wiretapping Americans' phone calls without warrants and to give telecommunications companies immunity from lawsuits over their role in spying.
Senate voted 68-29 for legislation amending and, in the end, gutting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, which passed a bill that contains no immunity and stricter wiretapping protections. A final bill is due on Saturday, February 16, the expiration date of last year's disastrous Protect America Act.
The ACLU and civil liberties groups have filed more than 40 lawsuits nationwide. The ACLU/SC sued AT&T and Verizon in 2006 on behalf of 17 individual plaintiffs and more than 100,000 ACLU members statewide for violating customer privacy and the Constitution by giving the U.S. government access to call data without a warrant.
"If Congress and the telecoms collude to kill these cases, we will never learn the truth about the Bush Administration's spying programs or hold companies accountable for breaking the law," said ACLU/SC Executive Director Ramona Ripston. "Whether it is violating customers' trust or breaking health and safety laws, this sends a message that companies can ignore the law with impunity then expect Congress to rewrite the Constitution."
ACLU/SC members made phone calls and sent faxes to California's Sen. Dianne Feinstein asking her not to support telecom immunity. She and Sen. Barbara Boxer voted against the final bill.