Monday, June 23, 2008

Did Obama sell out in backing the surveillance compromise?

Obama is taking heat from the Democratic left for supporting the compromise anti-terrorist surveillance bill passed by the House last Friday.

Nut graf from LA Times editorial:

Critics of the bill (HR 6304) complain that it would give the executive branch broad license to spy on U.S. residents without a warrant. Any phone call or e-mail with targets in other countries could be intercepted without prior court approval if the administration claimed it necessary in an emergency.

But the compromise bill, which 105 Democrats supported (against the 128 who opposed it), contains new safeguards against over-zealous surveillance, including that the White House must bind itself to mandatory oversight.

In language that was attacked by critics, the bill grants retroactive immunity to telcoms against suits charging invasion of privacy when the firms released phone records at the behest of the White House without a warrant. Obama addressed that issue in his statement on the compromise:

Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President’s illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.

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