After taping his upcoming response to President Bush's Saturday radio address at WBBM's studios in Chicago this morning, Bill Foster took questions from the media, including one from Public Affair's Jeff Berkowitz about proposed reforms of the Foreign Intelligence ...
After taping his upcoming response to President Bush's Saturday radio address at WBBM's studios in Chicago this morning, Bill Foster took questions from the media, including one from Public Affair's Jeff Berkowitz about proposed reforms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Specifically, Berkowitz asked him about his recent vote against a bill originating in the Senate that offered immunity to those telecom companies who cooperated with the Bush administration's warrantless domestic wiretapping program. In response, Foster explained how he instead voted for the House compromise bill, which proposed that the phone companies be able to defend their actions in a secret court, rather than receive blanket immunity:
FOSTER: [Y]ou know, this was an important vote. And, I do not believe in blanket immunity for telecom companies or anyone else that may or may not have violated basic privacy understandings. I believe there is a huge difference between a scenario in which data was turned over in the immediate aftermath of September 11, with a clear understanding that people in the Administration thought that this was truly legal and data that may have been turned over under other circumstances.
And, I think the compromise that came out of the House Bill, which essentially established a secret court that allowed the telecoms to defend themselves, using the letters that they may or may not have received from the Administration, provides a very good intermediate compromise for the purposes of determining the civil immunity or non-immunity of these telecoms. So, I am a bigger fan of the compromise that came out of the House than the compromise that came out of the Senate and I voted that way.
(More after the jump ...)
BERKOWITZ: You said a “secret court,” coming out of the House Bill. Is that separate from the FISA courts?
FOSTER: Yes, yes. As I understand, there was a mechanism to provide—to allow the telecoms—the ability to present letters that they may or may not have gotten from the administration, encouraging them to turn over data. These are letters that, if they exist, would be protected under state secrets provisions by the Administration and the Administration currently would prevent [the telecoms] from presenting in open court. And, so, they are in a situation where the law says very clearly that, you know, you are immune if you got a letter saying certain things with certain assurances from the Administration. But, since [the telecoms] can’t present those letters in open court, then, for civil purposes, they can’t actually defend themselves and so the House Compromise provides a mechanism for them to present those letters, not in open court, but in a secret proceeding.