House Passes Version of Controversial Wiretapping Legislation Without Telecom Immunity
By Andrew Ungberg — Edited by Wen Bu
H.R. 3773 – Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008
Full Text of House Bill
Full Text of Corresponding Senate Bill
CRS Summary of House Bill
GovTrack Summary (including House vote details)
On Friday, March 14, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 3773, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008. The House bill, which passed 213-193, would set new rules for governmental “eavesdropping” on phone calls and emails within the United States. Originally introduced in October 2007 by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and several other House Democrats, the bill aims to resolve issues associated with the wiretapping program the Administration created in the wake of September 11, 2001. The House version of the bill would establish restraints for future government action, as well as the procedures for challenging those actions in court.
Unlike the Senate version of the bill, S. 2248, which the Senate passed in February, the House version does not grant immunity from civil liability to telecommunications companies accused of illegally cooperating with government surveillance.
Some other highlights of the bill:
- Government must seek approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before conducting surveillance.
- Intelligence agencies are forbidden from reverse-targeting American citizens through surveillance of foreigners.
- A “Commission on Warrantless Electronic Surveillance Activities” will be established to investigate government surveillance since September 11, 2001.
The Associated Press and OMB Watch report on the passage of the House bill.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) explained more of the process behind the House bill’s passage.
Hugh D’Andrade of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in response to the debate on the FISA amendments, excerpted several opinion pieces on “how surveillance hurts free speech.”