Senate: Yes to Telecom Immunity

House: No to Telecom Immunity

Current law is that telecom companies may not wiretap you unless they have a warrant, or are acting in good faith. That is how things are right now: if they obey the law or even reasonably believed that they were obeying the law, they are immune to both criminal prosecution and civil liability.

Some people believe the current law is fair. As long as the telecom company at least reasonably tried to obey the law, they deserve to be cut some slack.

Some people believe that is not fair, and that reasonably trying to obey the law, let alone actually obeying, is still too onerous. Furthermore, lifting this requirement that the telecoms try to obey the law, isn't good enough today. That requirement should be lifted for activities in the past, as well. Existing lawsuits should be immediately thrown out, before the courts make any determination as to whether or not the old law was broken.

There is a bill in the Senate, S.2248 (maplight) with a provision to grant retroactive immunity in civil lawsuits, to telecom companies that assist the U.S. Government with warrantless wiretaps. If this bill becomes law, telecoms will no longer need the "good faith" defense.

A few hours ago, there was a vote in the Senate to amend S.2248 by striking out the immunity. This has finally been voted upon, and failed. The immunity clause will remain in S.2248.

Senators of interest: Domenici, McCain voted against the amendment (keep the immunity clause); Bingaman, Obama voted for the amendment (strike out the immunity clause). Clinton did not vote.

Last November, the House passed its own version of this bill (maplight), which does not include the immunity provision. Now the two bodies will have to negotiate on what final version will be sent to the president. Some House leaders have condemned the immunity provision, but the president says he will veto the bill if it does have it.