Sep 292009
 September 29, 2009  Business, Laws, U.S. Comments Off on Hoyer throws cold water on bill introduced to repeal retroactive immunity

Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) announced today that the introduction of the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act, a bill that would eliminate retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that allegedly participated in President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. The immunity had been included in the FISA Amendment Acts of 2008.

“During the previous administration, telecommunications companies were granted retroactive immunity for violating the rights and privacy of millions of Americans,” said Merkley. “I am proud to join Senator Dodd and co-sponsor the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act to help restore accountability and increase oversight to protect the privacy rights that have been central to our nation since its inception.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) hasn’t seen the bill yet, but is already rejecting it. As quoted on Politico, Hoyer commented, “I don’t think that revisiting that issue will get us anyplace,” Hoyer said. Without Hoyer’s support, the bill has little chance of passing both houses of Congress. Hoyer didn’t totally shut the door, however. As quoted in an Associated Press report, Hoyer said:

“I am not going to make a decision on that at this point in time.”

But he added: “I think there was a determination to move on on that issue and I think that determination is a good one.”

Sep 162009
 September 16, 2009  Featured News, Govt, Surveillance, U.S. Comments Off on Obama: Renew PATRIOT Act provisions on domestic surveillance

David Kravets writes:

The Obama administration is informing Congress it supports renewing three Patriot Act provisions expiring at year’s end, measures making it easier for the government to spy in the United States.

In a letter to Patrick Leahy, the Vermont senator and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Justice Department on Monday suggested the administration might consider “modifications” to the act to protect civil liberties.

“The administration is willing to consider such ideas, provided that they do not undermine the effectiveness of these important authorities,” Ronald Weich, assistant attorney general, wrote to the Vermont senator, (.pdf) whose committee is expected next week to consider renewing the three expiring Patriot Act provisions. The government disclosed the letter Tuesday.

Read more about the expiring provisions that Obama wants to renew over the objections of privacy advocates and civil libertarians on Threat Level.

Note that Obama’s position on this is not a flip flop.  During his campaign, when asked about the PATRIOT Act,  he pointed out what he saw as its advantages and blamed the problems on executive orders.

Photo credit: Bachrach44.

Aug 222009
 August 22, 2009  Court, Featured News, Govt, Surveillance, U.S. Comments Off on Feds invoke national secrets in wiretap case

The Obama administration, trying to derail a lawsuit over former President George W. Bush’s authority to wiretap Americans without court permission, has refused to take a position on the program’s legality and says a federal judge can’t decide that question because the crucial facts are national secrets.

A ruling on whether Bush exceeded his constitutional powers would be “an improper advisory opinion” because there’s no proof – without delving into confidential, off-limits evidence – that the government wiretapped the plaintiff in the suit, the Justice Department said late Thursday.

“Information protected by the state secrets privilege is necessary to litigate the matter,” government lawyers told Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco. Walker has scheduled a hearing Sept. 23 to decide whether to dismiss the suit or proceed to a ruling on whether the surveillance program was legal.

Read more on San Francisco Chronicle

Related: Court filing [pdf], courtesy of Threat Level.

Aug 212009
 August 21, 2009  Court, Featured News, Laws, Surveillance, U.S. Comments Off on Judge rejects challenge to overseas wiretap law

A judge rejected a challenge to a law letting the United States eavesdrop on overseas conversations Thursday, saying fears by Americans that their conversations will be monitored and their rights violated were ”purely subjective.”

U.S. District Judge John Koeltl ruled that the latest version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act could not be challenged by attorneys, journalists and human rights organizations unless they could show their own communications had been affected.


The law was challenged by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, a group of international criminal defense lawyers and an organization of women, among others.

Read more from the Associated Press in The New York Times.