Telecom Companies Granted Immunity in Wiretap Case
By Brian Walker
In 2008 Congress passed surveillance legislation (called the FISA Amendments Act of 2008) which granted retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that are accused of helping the NSA spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant. Traditionally law enforcement would be required to obtain a warrant and name the specific devices and places where a suspect would be monitored, as well as declaring what crime it suspects the target will commit. This is not the case under the FISA Amendment Act, as the government is not required to identify the specific places, telephone lines, and other forms of communication and travel which will be monitored, giving them widespread authority to warrantlessly spy on all communications made by a suspect. These amendments to the act were passed after the Electronic Frontier Foundation challenged warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens as unconstitutional, but before any determinations had been made about the case.
Hepting v. AT&T was filed as an appeal to a previous ruling which provided retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies assisting the NSA’s warrantless eavesdropping program.
This Thursday, a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a previous lower court ruling on the case which ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a part of which granted retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies accused of providing warrantless eavesdropping assistance (both foreign and domestic) to the National Security Agency (NSA).