Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, this week announced his intention to hold hearings that will probe the extent of the cooperation between telephone companies and the NSA.
Before granting such immunity, though, Reyes is determined to find out exactly what these companies might have done. In a statement issued by the Intelligence Committee, Reyes said, “Before granting immunity for any activities, it will be important to review what those activities were, what was the legal basis for those activities, and what would be the impact of a grant of immunity.”
To find out, Reyes plans to hold hearings in June to determine the nature of the NSA’s surveillance program and to find out whether it was legal. The hearings will also consider the issue of whether laws need to be changed to allow intelligence agencies to better track terrorist communications.
Reyes says that he “will not prejudge the outcome of these hearings,” but the fact that he has serious questions about the retroactive immunity suggests that he won’t be easily persuaded to sign off on it. That’s good news for organizations like the EFF, which is embroiled in a lawsuit with AT&T over the issue. Even if the administration doesn’t get its way in Congress, it will continue to push for the courts to throw out such cases on the grounds that they will expose state secrets. Thus far, though, the combined case against the telephone companies remains alive.