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Obama flip-flops on telecom immunity

Barack Obama supporters are lashing out against the Democratic presidential candidate for changing his position on the telecom immunity issue.

Sen. Barack Obama is taking heat from liberal supporters for changing his position on granting phone companies involved in President Bush's domestic spying program retroactive immunity for breaking federal laws.

According to a New York Times article published Wednesday, more than 7,000 Obama supporters have organized on Obama's own campaign Web site to protest his recent move to support legislation that will grant legal immunity to phone companies involved in the National Security Agency's domestic wiretapping program after the September 11 attacks.

Sen. Barack Obama Declan McCullagh/CNET

Previously, Obama opposed any immunity for the telecom companies. In February, Obama voted on a Senate bill against retroactive immunity. And when asked for CNET's 2008 Technology Voters' Guide whether he supported "giving (phone companies) retroactive immunity for any illicit cooperation with intelligence agencies or law enforcement, " he answered "No."

During the primary, Obama vowed to fight such legislation to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, the Times story said. But now he has switched his position to support a compromise bill that was worked out between the White House and Democratic Congressional leaders.

The bill is expected to be voted on by the Senate on Tuesday after the Fourth of July holiday, the article said.

Disappointed Obama supporters told the Times that they see the shift in the telecom immunity issue as a test of Obama's principles in opposing Bush's surveillance program. The article quotes Markos Moulitsas, a blogger and founder of, as saying that he has decided to cut back the amount of money he gives to the Obama campaign.

While supporters may be frustrated and angry by Obama's apparent flip-flop on this issue, they won't find any more consistency in Sen. John McCain, Obama's presidential opponent on the Republican side.

My colleague Declan McCullagh pointed out in his blog last month that when news about the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program became public years ago, McCain was critical of it. Initially, he said that the courts should decide whether or not AT&T and others accused of violating laws should be held accountable for their participation in the domestic spying program. He also said publicly that it should be made clear to the phone companies that any immunity granted should explicitly state that this was not a "blessing" of their practices and that there should be oversight hearings on the issue.

But over the course of the campaign, McCain's position has changed. In February, he voted for retroactive immunity--even though there were no explicit statements telling AT&T and other telecommunications companies that this is not a "blessing." And there was no deal providing for "oversight hearings," nor were there "provisions" to ensure this won't happen again.