Tuesday, March 4, 2008


According to McJoan, my most reliable source on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act debate, the House is getting ready to cave in to President Bush’s demand that the telecoms be granted immunity for illegally spying on Americans.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why Congress seems so willing to excuse this activity. I can understand why the Bush administration wants it; it is not to protect the telecoms but to protect themselves. Unless these cases against the companies go to court, we won’t ever learn the extent of the spying on American people.

Interestingly, the trade group that actually represents companies in the computer, Internet, information technology, and telecommunications industries, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) has
sent a letter to the House of Representatives protesting immunity for the telecoms:
CCIA dismisses with contempt the manufactured hysteria that industry will not aid the United States Government when the law is clear. As a representative of industry, I find that suggestion insulting. To imply that our industry would refuse assistance under established law is an affront to the civic integrity of businesses that have consistently cooperated unquestioningly with legal requests for information. This also conflates the separate questions of blanket retroactive immunity for violations of law, and prospective immunity, the latter of which we strongly support.

Therefore, CCIA urges you to reject S. 2248. America will be safer if the lines are bright. The perpetual promise of bestowing amnesty for any and all misdeeds committed in the name of security will condemn us to the uncertainty and dubious legalities of the past. Let that not be our future as well.
In a Commentary piece in Monday’s Chicago Tribune some of the plaintiffs help to clarify what is and isn’t at stake in the suits against the telecoms:
...If the telecoms receive the "get-out-of-jail-free" card that the administration demands, more than 40 lawsuits charging that the phone companies acted contrary to established federal law by not protecting consumers' privacy will be thrown out of court. We are plaintiffs in one such lawsuit, and Congress should not deny us our day in court. The companies broke the law, and we believe they must be held accountable....

The Bush administration and its supporters in Congress complain that these lawsuits are simply about money and enriching trial lawyers -- suggesting that the litigation should be stopped because of the potential damages that might be awarded in such lawsuits. This criticism ignores the fact that, according to the rules in the federal court, the only way that we could ensure that a federal judge could continue to explore previous violations if the companies simply changed their participation or the government changed or ended the program was to ask for minimal damages. We are not interested in recovering money for ourselves, nor is our counsel, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. We, however, are committed to assuring that these giant companies are punished for violating the law and thus dissuaded from violating the law in the future.

More important, amnesty not only lets the companies off the hook without answering any questions, it assures that the American people will never learn about the breadth and extent of the lawless program....

Congress is supposed to act to protect the rights of American citizens, not sacrifice those rights to large corporate entities. The House and Senate should resist the bullying tactics of the Bush White House and ensure that we have our day in court to vindicate our rights and reveal any illegality engaged in by the telecoms. We need to know about the Bush White House's secret program.
Doesn’t this make sense? What doesn’t make sense to me is why Congress appears willing to capitulate. I would genuinely appreciate your helping me understand this.
- Milo

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