Bush Says Would Veto House Eavesdropping BillBy Reuters - | Posted 2008-03-13 Email Print
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Bush is seeking immunity for telecommunications companies
that participated in his warrantless domestic spying program
after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001 and are
now facing lawsuits.
WASHINGTON, March 13 (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush, locked in a battle with Congress over eavesdropping legislation, said on Thursday the House of Representatives version of the bill was "unwise" and he would veto it.
Bush is seeking immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in his warrantless domestic spying program after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001 and are now facing lawsuits.
The House legislation, scheduled for a vote later on Thursday, would allow phone companies to present their defense behind closed doors in federal court, with the judge given access to confidential government documents about eavesdropping begun after the Sept. 11 attacks.
About 40 civil lawsuits have been filed accusing AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. of violating Americans' privacy rights in the surveillance program.
"This litigation would undermine the private sector's willingness to cooperate with the intelligence community, cooperation that is absolutely essential to protecting our country from harm," Bush said.
The president supports a Senate bill passed last month that would give phone companies immunity and renew a law that expanded the power of U.S. authorities to track terrorism suspects without a court order. That law expired on Feb. 16.
Bush urged the House to pass that version and send it to him to sign into law.
"Unfortunately, instead of holding a vote on the good bipartisan bill that passed the United States Senate, they introduced a partisan bill that would undermine America's security," Bush said.
He called the House bill "unwise" and said it could lead to public disclosure of highly classified information that could help terrorists.
Bush said the litigation against the phone companies was "unfair" because they had been assured by the U.S. government that their cooperation was "legal and necessary" to fighting terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Companies that may have helped us save lives should be thanked for their patriotic service, not subjected to billion dollar lawsuits that will make them less willing to help in the future," Bush said. (Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by David Alexander and John O'Callaghan)
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