FISA Update: Finally, Judge Grants Telecom Immunity

San Francisco Chronicle, “Telecom immunity upheld as judge tosses suits“:

A federal judge on Wednesday upheld an immunity law for telecommunications companies and dismissed dozens of lawsuits by customers who accused AT&T and other carriers of collaborating in illegal government wiretapping.

The law, pushed through Congress last year by President George W. Bush, validly authorized the attorney general to protect phone companies from liability without having to publicly disclose whether a company had actually allowed the government to eavesdrop on its customers, said Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco.

Hours later, however, Walker rejected the Obama administration’s attempt to sidetrack another suit challenging the legality of Bush’s electronic surveillance program and scheduled a hearing for Sept. 1.

The law, the FISA Amendments Act, passed through Congress last year with strong bipartisan support after thorough debate. Critics of the Administration’s foreign policy had targeted the telecommunications companies in the courts as a tactic in their attack against U.S. surveillance practices. The law granted civil immunity to the telecoms if they demonstrated they were following an official government request to assist in the surveillance.*

In passing the law that led to Judge Walker’s ruling, Congress affirmed the important principle that private companies should not be punished for acting in good faith when following legitimate government requests for assistance in defending the nation from terrorist attacks. Good corporate citizenship must not be an invitation for activists and trial lawyers to sue private parties as proxies in foreign policy and national security disputes.

UPDATE (noon): Judge Walker’s ruling is available here, posted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Of course, the predictable reaction, “EFF and ACLU Planning to Appeal Dismissal of Dozens of Spying Cases

*The EFF and ACLU speak in terms of surveillance of U.S. citizens, but in fact the targeted surveillance was overseas communications and communications among non-U.S. citizens.

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