Our Congress Has Failed Us: Gives In On Telecom Immunity

from the no-checks,-no-balances dept

We mentioned the rumored "compromise" bill concerning telecom immunity earlier this week, and now it appears that leaders of both the House and the Senate have agreed to wording in the bill which will be brought to the floor today. From the sound of it, it's exactly what we feared: Congress has effectively given in to the administration, allowing it to grant immunity to any telco. Apparently, all that talk about not allowing the worst of this bill to go through was just talk. It's difficult to know where to begin in reviewing this "deal." It's hardly a compromise -- it's a get out of jail free card.

To summarize: it appears quite likely that various telcos broke a very clear law in providing wiretaps to the government without a warrant (as required under FISA). Despite what you might hear, this has nothing to do with emergency wiretaps where there wasn't time to go the warrants. Under existing law, in such cases, it's possible to get the wiretap and get the warrant within a few days. However, in many cases, it appears no warrant was ever sought. The fact that the telcos approved these wiretaps is almost certainly against the law -- and it seems that it should obviously be tried in a court of law to determine that specifically.

However, under this new law, Congress has basically given the President (who ordered the wiretaps in the first place, and doesn't want these trials to go forward since they may reveal that he broke the law too) "get out of jail free" cards he can hand to each telco, saying that since he told them that the wiretaps were legal, the lawsuits no longer can proceed. Basically, this puts the President above the law, lets him avoid trials that might prove that his activities broke the law and to reward telcos who broke the law at his command.

Even worse, the bill basically grants the administration the right to keep on spying without getting warrants. Intelligence agencies will be able to demand various communications providers hand over communications without court approval and without naming the target, so long as they claim that the communications are "reasonably believed to involve a non-American who is outside the country." Seems rather wide open for abuse doesn't it?

This whole thing is fairly stunning, considering that it's an opposition Congress facing off against a weak administration. Yet Congress basically gave the President exactly what he wanted, and made a mockery of the checks and balances our government was supposed to include. This is allowing a President to say the law is whatever he says is the law, while destroying basic due process and civil liberties along the way.

Filed Under: congress, immunity, telcos, wiretapping

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Cowherd, 20 Jun 2008 @ 7:17pm

    Re: Not so hard to understand...

    "By going along, the Dems hope to blunt any political advantage Bush and his fellows could have gotten out of this."

    Or perhaps by going along, the Dems hope to have all that power vested in *their own* presidential candidate someday...

    Even so ... 293-192? We can only hope that the Senate lives up to its role of giving crap like this a "sober second look"...

    They need to completely outlaw donating to political parties and candidates. Instead, anyone who presents a signed petition with enough names to suggest that they have enough voter interest/a big enough party to stand a chance should be eligible to run a campaign at taxpayer expense, up to a fair and reasonable limit that is the same for all comers. Said campaign funds being administered by an independent and nonpartisan branch of the government, of course, one subjected to heavy watchdogging, much as the administration of the elections themselves is subject to heavy watchdogging.

    Raise taxes in the upper brackets. That will take the money mainly from the same people that will no longer be spending millions donating to campaigns, so they end up no worse off financially than now, but lose the ability to exert undue political influence.

    Then we once more have a government "by the people, for the people".

    But if the Senate passes this crap, watch for the Supreme Court's reaction. If they do nothing, move to Canada. Canada still has a functional Charter of Rights and Freedoms, last I checked; they didn't trash their version of the first amendment after 9/11 or their fourth after Napster and 9/11. :P

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