S 2248. (Revisions to foreign intelligence surveillance law) Dodd of Connecticut amendment that would remove a provision providing legal immunity to telecommunications companies that shared customer records/On agreeing to the amendment
senate Roll Call 15 Feb 12, 2008
This vote was on an amendment by Chris Dodd, D-Conn., that would remove from the underlying bill a provision that would provide immunity from prosecution to telecommunications companies that shared customer records as part of the government's warrantless wiretapping program.
The issue of warrantless wiretaps came to a head in 2005 when a series of news reports revealed that the administration had used an executive order to circumvent the courts and collect information about Americans, without a warrant, by petitioning telecommunications providers for phone records and more. It resulted in a firestorm of controversy over balancing the government's need to collect time-sensitive intelligence information from terrorist targets, and the public's right to privacy and due process.
The amendment was offered to a bill that makes revisions to electronic surveillance laws, including controversial provisions that would allow U.S. intelligence agencies to listen in on phone conversations of foreign targets even if they were communicating with someone in the United States. The bill also would grant retroactive legal immunity from prosecution to telecommunications companies that shared customers' private telephone records with the government.
Dodd said that his amendment helps avoid setting what he said is a dangerous precedent for allowing the government to circumvent due process. "I believe we ought to strike that provision and allow the court to do its job. That is what this amendment does, and I urge its adoption," Dodd said.
Christopher Bond, R-Mo., opposed the amendment, saying the provision is an essential part of the underlying bill. He argued that the companies complied with a federal government request and as such were acting in good faith and as patriotic corporate citizens.
"If we permit the carriers that may or may not have participated to be sued in court, then the most important partners the Government has‚Äîthe private sector‚Äîwill be discouraged from assisting us in the future," Bond said.. "These companies acted in good faith and, therefore, we should give them retroactive immunity."
Some Democrats, reluctant to break apart the bipartisan compromise that allowed the bill to come to the floor in the first place, agreed that the provision must stay in the bill. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the provision in question "is, of course, the whole shooting match."
"After hearing from witnesses and reviewing documents, the committee concluded that the providers who assisted the Government acted in good faith, with a desire to help the country prevent another terrorist attack like those committed on September 11, 2001," Rockefeller said. "Even more importantly, however, the committee recognized that, because of the ongoing lawsuits, providers have become increasingly reluctant to assist the Government in the future. Given the degree to which our law enforcement agencies and intelligence community need the cooperation of the private sector to obtain intelligence, this was simply an unacceptable outcome."
The Senate rejected Dodd's amendment by a vote of 31-67. Every Republican present voted against the amendment. Of Democrats present, 30 voted for the amendment, and 18 voted against it. (All of the most progressive senators voted yes.) Thus, the bill went forward with its language granting retroactive immunity to telecom companies intact.
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