Senate Mulls Immunity for Telecoms Senators consider whether phone companies should be let off the hook for allowing the National Security Agency to tap customers' phone calls and e-mails without a court warrant. Whistleblower Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, says it gives the NSA access to all Internet communications.
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Senate Mulls Immunity for Telecoms

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Senate Mulls Immunity for Telecoms

Senate Mulls Immunity for Telecoms

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: When now-retired AT&T technician Mark Klein was transferred to the phone company's central office in San Francisco four years ago, he already knew a management-level colleague had been given a clearance by the National Security Agency to install Internet equipment in a new secret room. Klein was put in charge of the company's Internet operations there, and that's where he saw documents showing that fiber optic splitters were also sending huge amounts of data into the secret room.

TOM KLEIN: An exact copy of all - I underline all - Internet traffic that flowed through critical AT&T cables, e-mails, documents, pictures, Web browsing, voice-over-Internet phone conversations, everything was being diverted to the equipment inside the secret room - every second of every day.

WELNA: Klein spoke at a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday flanked by privacy advocates with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He said when he retired from AT&T three years ago, he made sure he had evidence of the NSA's data collecting.

KLEIN: I took copies of the documents with me because I thought maybe someday this might be of importance.

WELNA: That day came in December 2005 when The New York Times revealed the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. President Bush defended that program the very next day as narrowly limited in its scope.

GEORGE W: In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links - links to al-Qaida and related terrorist organizations.

WELNA: EFF Attorney Kevin Bankston says AT&T and other phone companies knew better since they'd actually help write the federal statutes on providing data to federal spy agencies.

KEVIN BANKSTON: It's unbelievable and shameful that they could now argue that they didn't know that these statutes prohibited them from spying on their customers without court orders and based on the president's say-so. That claim is all the more shocking when we know that at least one of the phone companies, Qwest, did the right thing and said no when the White House asked it to break the law.

WELNA: Back in Congress, the Senate Intelligence Committee did provide immunity for phone companies in legislation setting new rules for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA. Arizona Republican Senator John Kyl fears the Judiciary Committee he sits on will today move in the opposite direction.

JOHN KYL: Not to provide liability protection for those companies that fulfill their patriotic duty and do what the government asks, not to permit the kind of intelligence collection abroad that we need.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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