by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
congress, immunity, telcos, wiretapping

As Expected, Republicans Push To Get Telcos Off The Hook For Illegal Activities

from the who-woulda-thunk-it dept

Back in February, we broke the story that some Republican Congressional Representatives were looking to circulate a discharge petition to force a vote on the FISA bill that would grant telcos retroactive immunity for any illegal activity having to do with wiretap activities. And, in fact, that's exactly what happened. Earlier this week, a group of Republicans started circulating just such a petition. This is an extremely rare move. A discharge petition hasn't been used successfully since 2002. However, the reasoning behind the supporters of this discharge petition is highly suspect and deserves to be examined. Rep. Roy Blunt stated:
"More than 66 days have passed since House Democrats allowed a key piece of terrorist surveillance legislation to expire--not because they had concerns with the bill, but because they were seemingly more concerned that not enough trial lawyers would be able to file enough expensive and frivolous lawsuits against U.S. telecom firms."
That's both incorrect and misleading at the same time. First of all, there were concerns with the bill: the concerns about giving telcos immunity for potentially illegal activities. As we've pointed out, there are really only three potential reasons for wanting immunity, and they certainly have nothing to do with filing frivolous lawsuits. If this was about frivolous lawsuits, immunity wouldn't be needed -- because the cases would get thrown out. The only real reason to push for immunity is because it's known that the telcos and/or the administration acted illegally. In such a case, immunity obviously shouldn't be allowed. No one has yet given a decent reason for immunity, and the statement here to back up the discharge petition is incredibly disingenuous. Hopefully, a majority of Congressional representatives will realize that and reject the petition.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2008 @ 8:48pm

    In the interest of fairness, the article should have mentioned that:

    The Senate counterpart to the bill now before the House was passed by the cognizant Senate committe on a vote of 13 to 2 for consideration by the full Senate. Once on the Senate floor it was passed by a vote of 68 to 29. The bill approved by the Senate includes the Teleco immunization provision.

    What it seems is going on in the House is a political battle between some members of the Dem party and a coalition of other Dems and Repubs attempting to have the bill brought to a vote. The petition mentioned in the article is intended to force a vote on the bill, which likewise contains the conferral of Teleco immunity.

    It is pretty easy to see why the Telecos are concerned. Some of them are already embroiled in lawsuits initiated by the EFF and the ACLU. The legislation would truncate those lawsuits. It seems to me it is one thing to be ticked off at the Executive Branch, but quite another to try and draw the Telecos into what is clearly an issue between the Executive and Legislative Branches.

    Despite constitutional overtones, this is certainly a power struggle between the House and the Executive, with the House trying to use the Telecos to obtain some measure of political advantage.

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