Thursday, October 18, 2007

Senate Grants Immunity to Telecomm Companies

Just when you thought the telecomm companies that sold out our privacy may have to answer to the people the Democrats buckle and grant them immunity! I'm of course speaking of companies like AT&T secretly providing our telephone records, e-mail traffic and other information to the Bush administration without our permission. Nevermind this is illegal, and nevermind that it was part of a larger illegal, and domestic, wiretapping program that targeted Americans.

Apparently, though we people have to abide by the law, telecommunication companies do not.

Here's an excellent summation of today's truly dissappointing news from the Center for American Progress:

SENATE GRANTS IMMUNITY TO TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES ON WIRETAPPING: Yesterday, the Senate reached an agreement with the Bush administration on a government surveillance bill that includes immunity for telecommunications companies who may have broken the law in the past by making client data available to the National Security Agency. President Bush has declared immunity to be a precondition to his signing the bill. But providing immunity "would wipe out a series of pending lawsuits alleging violations of privacy rights by telecommunications companies that provided telephone records, summaries of e-mail traffic and other information to the government after Sept. 11, 2001, without receiving court warrants." Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the lead counsel in one such lawsuit against AT&T, said that these lawsuits are not the work of "typical trial lawyers trying to find a way to get into the pockets of American companies," as House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) claimed. "It's certainly the goal of the administration and the phone companies to ensure that there's never a decision about [whether] what's been going on is legal or not. The telecom cases are the last, best hope," Cohn said. The House Democratic leadership yesterday had to pull its version of the bill, which does not contain telecom immunity, after Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) introduced an amendment that would have "substantially delayed" the legislation.

But that's not all. As far as I can tell, the real "story" of the past few weeks is the fact that it appears the Bush Administration began illegally wiretapping Americans well BEFORE 9/11.

See here:

"After September the 11th...I authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations."

--President Bush, 5/11/06


"Former chief executive Joseph P. Nacchio...said the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks [about surveillance contracts]."

--Washington Post, 10/13/07

This not only directly contradicts the President's assertion that the program began after 9/11, but it also decimates their entire contention that the program has always been about "catching terrorists". We of course all know that prior to 9/11 the Administration was focused on everything BUT terrorism. So, in light of these revelations, its gravely dissappointing to see the Democrats not only fail to raise this issue, but then buckle again by giving telecommunication companies immunity for their crimes!!

Constitutional law litigatore Glenn Greenwald states it nicely:

There is absolutely no justification whatsoever — neither substantive nor political — for expanding the scope of warrantless eavesdropping powers and especially for granting amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms. It is unconscionable even to consider any changes to FISA without full disclosure by the administration of how they used their illegal and secret warrantless eavesdropping powers in the past. In that regard, it is worth emphasizing that the administration from 2001 through 2004 (at least) was
engaged in spying on Americans so patently illegal that the entire top level of the DOJ and the FBI Director threatened to quit if it continued — yet we still do not know what they were doing then. How can that be?

There is no justification for permitting that conduct to remain concealed from the American public, let alone from the Congress.Warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty implicate virtually every critical political value assaulted for the last six years by this administration — our basic constitutional protections, checks and balances and the rule of law. Capitulation by the Democratic Congress here would eliminate any residual doubt (if there is any) about what this Congress really is. We shouldn’t assume the worst unless and until it actually happens, and until it does, everything should be done to prevent that.

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