Congress bails out telcos for illegal snooping
Political compromise leaves civil liberties in the dust
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 only terrorists I am afraid of is the government of the United States of America. As a "foreign national" I don't have to worry about little things like due process. G Dubya has "declared into place" laws which say they he can, abduct me from my country, hold me for as long as he wants without charges, even torture me for information I most likely don't have, or want to have. The American government doesn't have to tell my family or my government where I am, or why I was taken. If I cross their border, they have the right to arbitrarily search and seize my personal property. Even flying from one of the cities in my country to another city in my country takes me over American airspace, so everything about me has to be sent to and stored by the American government.
Despite having signed numerous agreements about “free trade” with the Americans, my country is constantly threatened with massive economic (and not-so-subtle military, depending on the issue) threats whenever we choose to sell less of a “critical resource” to America, and instead sell to another country, which would pay more for that same resource, or, shock and dismay, sell those goods to our own people, instead of America.
I am sick unto death of my country being forced into selling all our lumber, food, electrical generating capacity, oil, and even more to the Americans, when we ourselves oftentimes can’t find these items, or have to pay prices far in excess of what they are sold to America for. China would pay us far more, and we could keep some of it for our own use for once. Don’t you dare try to say this is the fault of our government either, because when we did elect a government willing to make changes to benefit our people instead of the Americans, there were military threats about “ensuring the stability of supply for resources vital to national security.” (Read: OIL and ELECTRICITY.)
How does the American wiretapping affect me? Why, because I would cheerfully like the ability to take part in the planning and execution of a resistance movement if the Americans ever invade my country too. Hard to do that with them listening in.
Or in other words: yes, I too have things to hide. Who I slept with, and when, when the stripper arrives for my buddy’s bachelor party, oh, and yes, where the weapons are buried. Until the Americans invade, I’m just a nutcase survivalist. When they do invade, I instantly become a terrorist. Interesting how that’s the American term for someone defending their own home.
Anonymous Coward for obvious reasons.
You risk anything being made public as soon as you tell someone. Whether it be your best friend, spouse, family member etc. I bet you aren't as hard on them when they tell someone else one of your "secrets".
As soon as the government puts you in jail for a conversation of yours which isn't criminal, related to terrorism etc, then you have a gripe. Until then, get real and look at yourself.
Not the Problem
We shouldn't be thinking of putting someone in jail who works for, or manages, a telephone company because he followed the direction of someone from the FBI or the NSA in letting them connect to their network to help find terrorists and prevent another September 11, 2001.
Instead, it's the people from the government, with the power, not private citizens, involved in this who should potentially face legal penalties if what they did was genuinely improper. Although it may be found, shocking as it might be to some, that a jury might well agree that preventing thousands of innocent people from dying is more important than observing all legal formalities