Thomas Ferraro
Reuters
June 15, 2008

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House and congressional negotiators have reached a tentative agreement on an anti-terror spy bill that would permit court dismissal of potentially billions of dollars in lawsuits against phone companies, sources familiar with the talks said on Friday.

Under the possible accord, a federal court could immunize a company by ruling it had been given written assurances that its participation in the U.S. government’s warrantless domestic spying program was legal and authorized by President George W. Bush, one source said.

It was unclear what would happen with suits against the government. But the government could claim state secrets, arguing information needed to prosecute was confidential and that suits should thus be dropped, the source said.

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 begun by Bush shortly after the September 11 attacks.

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