Dodd pens telecom immunity repeal

A handful of Democratic senators are promoting legislation to repeal immunity for telecommunications firms that cooperated with the Bush administration on a warantless wiretapping program.

Congress voted last year to provide "retroactive immunity" to any companies participating in the controversial program. But with a more sizable majority, some Democrats are pushing to repeal that.

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Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) will introduce the Retroactive Immunity Repeal Act, opening up some of the country's largest firms to legal liabilities. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) have signed on as co-sponsors.

“I believe we best defend America when we also defend its founding principles,” Dodd said in a statement. “We make our nation safer when we eliminate the false choice between liberty and security. But by granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies who may have participated in warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, the Congress violated the protection of our citizens' privacy and due-process rights, and we must not allow that to stand.”

House leaders, however, seem unenthusiastic about taking on the telecom giants.

"I don't think revisiting that issue is going to get us anyplace," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told The Hill.

Civil libertarians claim that telecom companies violated their customers' rights by sharing information without a government warrant. Immunity shields those companies from an onslaught of lawsuits.

"Granting retroactive immunity to companies that went along with the illegal warrantless wiretapping program was unjustified and undermined the rule of law," said Feingold, one of the Senate's fiercest opponents of Bush-era surveillance practices. “Congress should not have short-circuited the courts’ constitutional role in assessing the legality of the program."



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