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Publication: Progressive Review
Bush Signs Spy Bill and Draws Lawsuit

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - July 14, 2008
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Bush Signs Spy Bill and Draws Lawsuit
by: Randall Mikkelsen 
Reuters

President George W. Bush signed a law on Thursday over-
hauling the rules for eavesdropping on terrorism suspects 
but immediately met a civil liberties challenge calling 
it a threat to Americans' privacy. 

"This law will protect the liberties of our citizens while 
maintaining the vital flow of intelligence," Bush said at 
a White House ceremony to mark a rare legislative victory 
for the president during his last year in office. 

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in Manhattan 
federal court as Bush signed the measure and called for the 
law to be voided as a violation of constitutional speech 
and privacy protections. 

"Spying on Americans without warrants or judicial approval 
is an abuse of government power, and that's exactly what 
this law allows," ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero 
said in announcing the suit. 

The action was filed on behalf of human-rights groups, 
journalists, labor organizations and others who say they 
fear the law will allow the U.S. government to monitor 
their activities, including compiling of critical reports 
on the United States. 

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Bush quickly signed the bill a day after Congress gave it 
final approval, with Democratic presidential candidate 
Sen. Barack Obama dropping earlier opposition to vote for 
passage. Obama's Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, has 
supported the bill but was absent for Wednesday's vote. 

The bill authorizes U.S. intelligence agencies to eavesdrop 
without court approval on foreign targets believed to be 
outside the United States. 

The administration says the measure will allow it to 
swiftly track terrorists. But the suit charges the law 
permits warrantless surveillance of phone calls and 
e-mails of U.S. citizens who may have legal and legitimate 
reasons for contacting people targeted by government 
spying. 

The bill seeks to minimize such eavesdropping on Americans, 
but the suit says the safeguards are inadequate. 

The law lets government "conduct intrusive surveillance 
without ever telling a court who it intends to surveil, 
what phone lines and e-mail addresses it intends to 
monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, or 
why it's conducting the surveillance," said ACLU national 
security director Jameel Jaffer, the lead attorney in the 
suit. 

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The most contentious issue in negotiations over the bill 
was a provision that grants liability protection to tele-
communication companies that took part in a warrantless 
domestic spying program Bush began after the September 11 
attacks. 

The law shields those firms from billions of dollars in 
potential damages from privacy lawsuits. 

McCain criticized Obama's vote in favor of the law as an 
inconsistency, and ACLU Legislative Director Caroline 
Fredrickson called it "very disappointing." 

The Democrat's campaign had earlier said he would support 
efforts to block legislation with a telecommunications 
immunity provision, but Obama voted for the overall bill 
Bush signed after casting a losing vote to strip the 
immunity provision. 

"Given the choice between voting for an improved yet 
imperfect bill, and losing important surveillance tools, 
I've chosen to support the current compromise," Obama said 
on his campaign Web site. 

-------

(Additional reporting by Edith Honan in New York; 
Editing by David Alexander and David Wiessler) 

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