Feeds

Congress bails out telcos for illegal snooping

Political compromise leaves civil liberties in the dust

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Congress has largely capitulated to White House demands for widespread immunity for the telecoms industry, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

Although Congressional Democrats claimed the compromise reached between Democrats and Republicans as a victory for the rule of law, the real winners in this action are the telecoms giants who assisted the Cheney administration in its warrantless, and illegal, wiretapping program, and who are now the defendants in over 40 lawsuits across the United States. Republicans trumpeted that the suits would be summarily dismissed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did manage to insert language in the bill stating that all presidential wiretapping authority in terrorism and espionage cases derives exclusively from the new legislation, in an attempt to prevent W- style freelancing where civil liberties are concerned. The bill also extends from three days to one week the emergency provision that currently allows emergency wiretaps for seventy-two hours before a warrant must be obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The big news, however, was the extremely low bar set for telecoms immunity. Telecoms companies that freelanced with the government will merely have to demonstrate to a federal judge that they acted in response to a legitimate government request. The bill wipes the slate clean, but at least establishes a framework for future surveillance activities. Small consolation for civil libertarians, it would seem.

"Whatever gloss might be put on it, the so-called 'compromise' on immunity is anything but: the current proposal is the exact same blanket immunity that the Senate passed in February and that the House rejected in March, only with a few new bells and whistles so that political spinsters can claim that it actually provides meaningful court review," EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston said in a press release. "We call on all members of Congress to reject this sham compromise and maintain the rule of law, rather than deprive the millions of ordinary Americans whose privacy rights were violated of their day in court."

The existence of the program caused a political firestorm when first reported by the NY Times in late 2005, and some of the more brazen trampling of the Fourth Amendment will probably now never be known. The administration eventually acknowledged that the National Security Agency (NSA) had “accidentally” targeted thousands of Americans, and it now appears that an actual accounting of how much purely domestic warrantless surveillance occurred has been officially consigned to the dustbin of history.

By strangling the litigation in its infancy, the compromise gives a patina of legitimacy to the administration’s activities without allowing the court system to determine what laws, if any, were broken in their execution. It appears now that we will never know. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?
Rent control: Better than bombs at destroying housing
Top beak: UK privacy law may be reconsidered because of social media
Rise of Twitter etc creates 'enormous challenges'
GCHQ protesters stick it to British spooks ... by drinking urine
Activists told NOT to snap pics of staff at the concrete doughnut
What do you mean, I have to POST a PHYSICAL CHEQUE to get my gun licence?
Stop bitching about firearms fees - we need computerisation
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
Oz biz regulator discovers shared servers in EPIC FACEPALM
'Not aware' that one IP can hold more than one Website
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.