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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 8:01pm

    Keep rotting America

    Perhaps we'll be able to start again, this time knowing full well the dangers instore and can plan accordingly.

    Doubtful. But its no big deal, its just that the dream of a brave few is dead and rotting. Not like it was a good dream either.

    Freedom. Pfft. Who needs it?

     

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    GrandDad, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 8:10pm

    Telco Immunity?

    Let me see if I understand this.

    Someone(s) wants to leave the Telcos "unprotected" for complying with Federal Government requests to "tap wires" or "eavesdrop" on wireless conversations in an attempt to stop the bad guys from killing a whole bunch of us again? Izzat right?

    I guess I just don't get why the Telcos (who are private enterprises, and among the most highly regulated by our governments) should be held liable for something with which they MUST comply.

    And, I don't understand why we think the bad guys should be able to use any means they can find to kill more of us, but we should "fight back" with both our hands and feet tied behind us, and beans in our ears.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 8:18pm

      Re: Telco Immunity?

      GrandDad, all I have to say is, you are a complete idiot.

       

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        Hillary & Bill Clinton, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 5:27am

        Re: Re: Telco Immunity?

        As usual, when someone who hasn't got the stones to even ID themselves on an a blog, they resort to name calling, because, as we all know, facts are so inconvenient.

         

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      DCX2, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 8:36pm

      Re: Telco Immunity?

      Assuming no laws were broken, they don't need immunity. The law already protects them if they were served a lawful court order, which is the only case where they MUST comply, and in fact they cannot comply with anything other than a lawful court order.

      Now, if you don't have a court order...that's breaking (multiple) federal laws, violating separation of powers, etc.

      It's a straw man argument to say that the Democrats don't want to wiretap terrorists. They just want the executive to follow the law (you know, that whole oath with "uphold the law" whereby one is sworn in as President). It is not required to break the law when wiretapping terrorists.

      Also, it's a blatant lie to say that the Dems want trial lawyers to make money. The primary case, Hepting vs. ATT, is being represented by EFF lawyers, who are non-profit.

      It's also a blatant lie to say that they need expanded eavesdropping powers to listen in on terrorists. They don't; FISA does not cover foreign-to-foreign calls, and never did. You can even listen in on a call into or out of America, so long as "minimization procedures" are followed and the American end of the conversation isn't saved. All without a warrant.

      In fact, there is some controversy over this recently, because Mukasey spoke to Congress and gave a teary-eyed speech blaming FISA for their inability to stop 9/11. Congressman Conyers wrote him a letter calling him on it, and then the DOJ started blaming an Executive Order for the problem with listening in on 9/11 plotters.

      Basically, they're just using the OMGTERROR defense. It worked on Iraq...thankfully it's not yet working on telco immunity.

       

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      Mike (profile), Apr 24th, 2008 @ 11:05pm

      Re: Telco Immunity?

      Someone(s) wants to leave the Telcos "unprotected" for complying with Federal Government requests to "tap wires" or "eavesdrop" on wireless conversations in an attempt to stop the bad guys from killing a whole bunch of us again? Izzat right?

      No, actually. That's wrong. What they're concerned about is leaving the telcos unprotected for complying with *illegal* requests that did not go through the proper channels with the legally required oversight.

      If the issue was just "an attempt to stop the bad guys from killing a whole bunch of us again" then they could have used the legal channels to require that.

      I guess I just don't get why the Telcos (who are private enterprises, and among the most highly regulated by our governments) should be held liable for something with which they MUST comply.

      That's the thing. They didn't need to comply with these requests, because they did not come through the proper channels. There are perfectly workable channels for such requests. If they were not used, then the telcos have every right to push back.

      And, I don't understand why we think the bad guys should be able to use any means they can find to kill more of us, but we should "fight back" with both our hands and feet tied behind us, and beans in our ears.

      If you don't understand why there should be due process and oversight in how the gov't spies on American citizens, then you have a funny understanding of America and what it means to be free.

       

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      Jake, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 4:23am

      Re: Telco Immunity?

      Because due process of law applies to everyone, even people we really, really hate?

       

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      SomeGuy, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 7:33am

      Re: Telco Immunity?

      "I don't understand why we think the bad guys should be able to use any means they can find to kill more of us, but we should "fight back" with both our hands and feet tied behind us, and beans in our ears."

      Because they are terrorists and we are not. Because they break all the rules and do whatever it takes to gain their objective, and we stand for right-reasoned civilization. Because they aim for destruction and suffering and our aim is to serve and protect our citizens. We don't fight by their rules because we are not them.

       

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        Sean, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 9:53am

        Re: Re: Telco Immunity?

        Its called being the bigger man.

        Just because some one broke into your car and stole you CD player doesn't mean that you should break into someone else's car and steal there CD player.

         

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    identicon
    PaleoSapiens, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 8:16pm

    Burma

    One cure for BDS (look it up) is a good dose of Real Politik. Case in point Burma. Need another one? Zimbabwe. I suppose you think USSR (CCCP) was a real wonderland. A place of real justice and equality for all...

    Humans are one of the few animals that crap where they sleep. Seems we haven't changed much since emerging from caves.

     

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    PaleoSapiens, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 8:31pm

    Anonymous Coward

    Point proven. QED

     

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    tackle, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 8:34pm

    Misleading

    I'm all for protecting civil liberties, but I cant even drive my own car without a seatbelt on if I so choose. So why would anyone expect the democratic controlled house to vote in favor of civil liberties?

     

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    zhenchyld, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 8:43pm

    *applauds DCX2*

    Finally, someone with an objective grasp on things.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 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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    Cynic, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 9:04pm

    Maybe it's just me, but I have about 100 times more concern about the US not turning into a police state than about giving Telco's (who have never treated me better than crap) immunity beyond whatever immunity they had when they did, or did not do, whatever they did, or did not do. Let the chips fall where they may based on existing law and their actual actions.

    And anyone who thinks we can stop terrorists by turning the US into a police state has no understanding of history or of current world affairs. So that's a specious argument.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 9:14pm

    When do we stop looking to make others responsible otherthan who is responsible for the telcos giving up information to the government in the first place - THE GOVERNMENT!!!! OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS, When do we find them LIABLE!!! FOR THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE!! NOT FOR THE CORPORATIONS AND THE GOVERNMENT ITSELF.

     

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    Michael, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 9:59pm

    The reason is simple

    The reason is simple why some in Congress want immunity. If the telcos get bit in the butt for this, they will no longer do the bidding of this administration or future administrations when it comes to shady wiretaps.

     

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    rick, Apr 24th, 2008 @ 10:38pm

    Ok "grandDad", the telcos cooperate with illegal government requests and whe should just say "who cares?"

     

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    Tristan Phillips, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 2:45am

    Don't the Democrats

    have a majority in the House? How does the minority party have the ability to dictate to the majority party what bills will and won't be voted on?

    If you have specific examples where specific Republicans are causing problems, why don't you tell us? I'm betting you're (At least) ignoring the fact that it's more than just Republicans causing the "problem", and you don't say anything about it because it doesn't fit your screed. Typical.

     

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      Mike (profile), Apr 25th, 2008 @ 3:02am

      Re: Don't the Democrats

      How does the minority party have the ability to dictate to the majority party what bills will and won't be voted on?

      Hence the discharge petition...

      If you have specific examples where specific Republicans are causing problems, why don't you tell us?

      I thought I did. It's a group of Republicans (no Democrats) pushing the petition, one of whom I named in the post, and I quoted him blaming the Democrats... Which part did I leave out?

      I'm betting you're (At least) ignoring the fact that it's more than just Republicans causing the "problem", and you don't say anything about it because it doesn't fit your screed. Typical.

      What "screed" am I trying to fit? If you think this site is pro-Democrat, then you clearly haven't read it for very long. It's neither pro-Democrat nor pro-Republican. I tend to dislike both parties equally.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 5:57am

    US Constitution
    Article 1; Section 9; Paragraph 3; "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."

    Case closed.

    Nothing for a thinking individual free of greed, self serving interests, and hidden agendas to even consider... oops...
    That leaves out the president, congress, and every other politician in the land.

    Governmental corruption and attempts to undermine the Constitution were one of the primary reasons our forefathers thought to include the Second Amendment.

     

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    Rekrul, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 6:08am

    I guess I just don't get why the Telcos (who are private enterprises, and among the most highly regulated by our governments) should be held liable for something with which they MUST comply.

    How would you feel if a federal officer walked into your bank and said "Give me all the money in GrandDad's account" and the bank manager gave him every last cent of your money. No warrant, no court order, he just told the manager to give it to him and the manager did. Would you want the bank held accountable for illegally giving away your money?

    Maybe it's just me, but I have about 100 times more concern about the US not turning into a police state than about giving Telco's (who have never treated me better than crap) immunity beyond whatever immunity they had when they did, or did not do, whatever they did, or did not do.

    Having the telcos help the government spy on ordinary people and then not being held accountable for it, sure sounds like a step toward a police state to me.

    They just want the executive to follow the law (you know, that whole oath with "uphold the law" whereby one is sworn in as President).

    The problem is that Bush is under the impression that the president makes the laws simply by giving orders.

     

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    yo ho ho...., Apr 25th, 2008 @ 6:17am

    Don't show political bias

    This is not a partisan issue!

    This is a general item where both parties are guilty -- and members of each have taken some pretty questionable positions.

    (and no, I am not a republican -- I am non-affiliated).

     

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    Matt Bennett, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 7:00am

    I'm not for this bill, but generally speaking see nothing wrong with a discharge petition. All that is is forcing a vote, and Congress plays too many stupid games with tabling things so they don't have to be called out on their positions on them. Congress needs to make more damn simple up or down votes, on almost everything.

     

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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Apr 25th, 2008 @ 8:40am

    Yay

    I applaud both DCX2 and Mike for their reponses. Very well said and I whole heartedly agree with your rebuttals to the (forgive the name calling) ignorant. Educating people is good.

     

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    Jman594, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 10:12am

    We should...

    Just start over. There are too many bills. I think that with every bill passed, there should be 3 removed. Since when was it the duty of elected officals to continuously write bills.

    I think most of our problems with this country (of which I love dearly) are because of too much government involvement. Give it back to the people.

    Start with our God given rights and take everything else away.

    (I do understand that you have to keep criminal laws for violence and such, so save those posts calling me an idiot)

    Why do you think the forefathers of this country started the revoulution? Mostly, too much government involvement in their lives (just over different circumstances).

     

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    Clueby4, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 10:16am

    4th Amendment

    It's called the 4th amendment the Telcos conspired and were accessories to violating it.

    The gov already has a rubber stamp warrant program, so there is no justification for the warrant-less taps.

    And stop with the "bad guys""terrorists""bogeyman" nonsense. Those are the risks you accept living in a free society. And frankly the threat is less then significant, it is instead used a means to extract more funding and curb civil rights.

    BTW, @Grand Dad shouldn't you be in a ward or something.

     

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    Ron Goodwyne, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 10:36am

    Telco Immunity

    You're view doesn't appear realistic to me. The notion that the telcos have nothing to fear from frivolous lawsuits because they'll be thrown out simply is not supported by reality. Corporations spend millions defending against frivolous lawsuits every year. The situation is made worse for telcos when the government orders them to hand over information. You want to place them in a no win situation. If they don't comply with the government's demands, they risk prosecution. If they do comply, they face lawsuits. I don't see any way to deal with this short of immunity from lawsuits when the government has asked for information.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 10:53am

      Re: Telco Immunity

      So, for the sake of saving Telecos money on potentially-frivolous lawsuits, you would give them immunity from presecution on potentially-illegal actions? That seems just short of madness to me. If they did something wrong, they should reap the consequences. If the government TOLD them to do something wrong, they're still responsible but now we ought to have an investiogation into The Administration to make sure they're held accountable, too. What purpose does teleco immunity serve? The only rationale is that someone knows things were less-than-legitimate and they want it swept quietly under the rug.

       

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      Mike (profile), Apr 25th, 2008 @ 1:33pm

      Re: Telco Immunity

      The situation is made worse for telcos when the government orders them to hand over information. You want to place them in a no win situation. If they don't comply with the government's demands, they risk prosecution.

      The rules for handing over data to the government are quite clear and extremely explicit. If the telcos refused because the gov't did not follow the rules, then they would not risk prosecution. They would merely be pointing out that the government needed to follow the rules.

      In fact, Qwest was one telco that did note these requests were illegal, and it did not face prosecution from the government. All it did was ask the gov't to follow the stated rules.

      What's wrong with that?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2008 @ 5:04pm

    Looks to me like the experiment with democracy is over and finished. There are only two classes now: those who can do what they want with impunity, and those who will do what they are told to do.

     

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    Bob, Apr 26th, 2008 @ 10:42am

    Telco immunity

    Personally I think that the Congress along with the Terrorists
    should be monitored . It may help the congress remember what they supported 10 min ago.

    PS: I hope that they leave the doors to their homes open like that have to our county.

     

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