Senate set to forgive telcos for spying on Americans with the NSA: TAKE ACTION NOW!

Tim from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "At EFF, we've just sent out an urgent action alert. Monday morning, the Foreign Intelligence Service Bill bill finally goes to the Senate floor, and at noon the Senate will cast their most important votes yet on Telecom Immunity for participation in massive, nationwide illegal NSA wiretapping. We've set up an action alert page for Boing Boing readers to contact their Senators, and would be much obliged if you could share the link."

The Senate is poised to grant retroactive immunity for telecoms that broke the law! On Monday, there will be critical, make-or-break votes in the Senate -- contact your Senator immediately to stop telecom immunity!

Senate lawmakers must support Senator Chris Dodd and other heroes in allowing a full debate to proceed on Monday, and they must vote to strip telecom immunity from the bill.

The Senate should not let the telecoms off the hook. Granting immunity sets a dangerous precedent, sending the message that lawbreaking is acceptable and that the rights of Americans can be freely infringed by private companies in defiance of the law. And though the debate about the proper process of collecting foreign intelligence is complex, the issue of telecom immunity is not. The facts are simple enough: the telecoms broke the law, so the Senate should let Americans have their day in court.


See also:
EFF suing AT&T for helping NSA illegally spy on Americans
William Gibson on NSA wiretapping
StopTheSpying: Tell the Dems to keep AT&T on the hook for NSA wiretapping
Time's Joe Klein gets everything wrong in column about NSA domestic spying
Congress: don't cripple the suit against the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program
NSA domestic spying: reaction from a crypto mail-list moderator
NSA's domestic data-mining ops gathered vast troves of info
NSA spies on US: calls, emails intercepted without warrants
Data mining prompted fight over NSA domestic spying program
ACLU map of NSA's domestic phone, 'net surveillance
Liveblogging court hearings: NSA's spying, AT&T's alleged complicity
AT&T built warrantless wiretap rooms for the NSA
CALL CONGRESS NOW: NSA wiretapping to be legalized THIS WEEK!
Schneier op-ed on unchecked presidential power, NSA spying
Government appeals its loss in NSA/ATT domestic spying case
Act NOW to keep NSA cases in public court


  1. Here is what happened today. Harry Reid: “I ask consent the mandatory quorum be waived as required under rule 22 and the cloture vote occur at 12 noon Monday Dec 17”

    Cloture is a request to end debate. The need to call for a quorum has already been waved. Only 2/3 of those present need to vote to invoke cloture to stop any filibuster. Dodd will get 35min and Feingold 15. Cloture vote at 12 noon on Monday. About an hour of debate prior. 41 votes required to block. If/when that fails, the amendments that have already been filed will be considered. Then 30 hours, then the final vote.

    There are two bills pending which amend the existing FISA laws. One version came from the Senate Intelligence Committee, and it grants immunity for the telecom companies which illegally wiretapped U.S. citizens for years.

    The other bill is from the Senate Judiciary Committee. That bill very pointedly does *not* grant such retroactive immunity. (which makes more sense, since it was illegal at the time, plus there are still a lot of unknowns as to exactly what these companied did). Harry Reid chose to introduce the version granting retroactive immunity to those companies which have been intercepting our phone calls, e-mails, and god knows what else.

    From the EFF link above:

    “I also urge you to support Senator Leahy, Senator Dodd, and others in an amendment to strip retroactive amnesty from the bill.”

    Are you aware that Leahy signed Reid’s request for cloture? In other words, Leahy has agreed to scuttle his own Judiciary bill (the one without immunity) in favor of Reid’s maneuver which will guarantee immunity.

    You are being played.

  2. The US democracy is not working, that much is clear: only those politicians currently in the spotlight, the democratic candidates, are actually doing something about this. And then, that’s mostly just one of them, Chris Dodd, with the other candidates forced to follow … forced by whom? BY THE PEOPLE.

    What about all the other democratic senators? They don’t care, because they don’t work for the people, they only pretend to once every 6 years. Republican senators? They’re quasi-fascists; domestic spying is not a bug to them, it’s a FEATURE.

    Go read

  3. My preliminary grazing is notifying me that it was a very good idea for me to follow nixar’s link, above, and you should probably take a look, too.

  4. Cn nyn prvd lnk t th txt f th lw tht’s p fr cnsdrtn? Th FF rtcl sys t’s S. 2248 bt Nn ndcts tht t (whch s th n wtht th mmnty cls) ws scttld nd thr’s sm thr n p.

    Nxr’s lnk s ll vry ntrstng, bt ‘d rthr rd th lw fr myslf.

  5. Ask and ye shall receive.

    I was just saying over in yesterday’s Canadian copyfight post how it would be nice if boingboing could post something about this bs bill in the Senate. Thanks Cory!

  6. “You are being played.”

    Noen: at the risk of sounding either hopelessly naive, or hopelessly pessimistic, I have to say that politics is a constant give-and-take. It’s minute-by-minute dealmaking, conducted by seasoned political tacticians, in a never-ending jockeying for any miniscule advantage they can manage for themselves.

    That is how the game is played. The only way to try to get the results we want from that morass is to make it in the interest of the politicians to come out of the dealmaking with the deal we want.

    I.e.: to say to them, “Come back to your constituents with the law we want, or don’t expect to see the inside of the halls of government again except on C-Span.”

    I’m not sure Leahy et al. are in some sort of conspiracy to hoodwink and oppress the American people.

    I do think that they will take the most politically expedient and easy way out if we let them, and that way is to just forget about the whole telecoms thing and move on to something else. That’s why we have to hold their feet to the fire.

  7. You could be right Nick. I tend to get to close to this. After all backroom deals have been going on in politics for a long time. The internet acts like a new telescope or microscope. It allows us to see things we couldn’t see before. In the long run it may be a good thing but for now the sight sure is ugly.

  8. Since when does “senator doing his job” and “hero” mean the same thing? It’s bad enough when politicians get maudlin and start calling everyone who’s gotten so much as a paper cut a hero. I expect less histrionic dialog from a group like the EFF. If they lose this vote, are they going to make sidewalk memorials out of poster board and stuffed animals and hold candles in dixie cups while they cry in the dark?

  9. Grey: Yes, the word “hero” is overused today. I think we’re desperate for something to grab onto at the moment, when we seem to be sinking.

    But I think also that you should consider that Senators and Representatives who might push for denying immunity to the telecoms are doing so at some political risk. No, they’re not heroes, but they are swimming upstream.

    They’re swimming against a current that’s comprised of Republican resistance and Democratic apathy in Congress, pressures from special interests (which don’t come much bigger than AT&T), the inertia and disinterest of most of their constituents, and the daunting prospect of having spent time and political capital in what will (unfortunately) most likely turn out to be lost cause.

    Politicians are pragmatists, or they don’t survive very long in politics. When they do the calculus to figure out what they can achieve while still retaining their influence and seats, that calculus has to have as one of it’s factors the overwhelming disapproval of their constituency should they fail to make the attempt.

    In which case: “throw da bums out!”

  10. You know, it’s funny, but, I don’t remember all this crying and gnashing of teeth when the Clinton administration instituted its Carnivore and Omnivore programs which, by the way targeted AMERICANS, not foreigners. Funny how all that outrage waited nearly a decade…

  11. Don Carl:

    Here’s a tidbit from Salon, dated Aug. 23, 2000:

    While Americans gnash their teeth about the FBI’s Carnivore spying technology, U.K. legislators pass a law that could let cops read your messages…For Americans, RIP [Britain’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act] should serve as a warning. Don’t get too comfortable just because Carnivore failed in the courts.

    The EFF submitted a report to the House Judiciary Committee that said that Carnivore

    far exceeds the scope of any wiretap laws we currently have in place and that allowing a system such as Carnivore to be used unchecked by law enforcement exacerbates the problem of over collection of data and has the potential to harm our open society.

    The ACLU, EPIC, Patrick Leahy, Dick Army, and many others attacked Carnivore.

    In Washington, I suppose the issue got buried under the Monica Lewinsky so-called “scandal.” There was no shortage of phony outrage over THAT world-shaking crisis, as I recall.

    BTW: are you implying that the telecoms are only monitoring FOREIGN communications? If so, you are misinformed.

  12. Yep – lost, but a promise made by Spector to Cheney to revisit later [breath being held]. I am always in dismay when our own representatives don’t represent when Congress is actually “in” session. This made me think what would make them show up (nevermind develop rational and meaningful legislation for our people)? Then I think, well, if they know we don’t care enough to show up to vote for them then we probably don’t care enough to know when they are there representing us or not. Logical thought to me. So, how do we make them show up? Let’s start by voting. All of us. How do we do this? Let’s make voter registration and voting easier. How do we do this? Legislation. Uh-oh. Chicken meet egg. I have accidentally defined how apathy is born. My work here is done.

  13. Thanks, Noen. The site you linked to, I should add for those who haven’t visited it, has a comments section that they apparently think Dodd might actually read.

    Jasut @16 said: “Let’s make voter registration and voting easier. How do we do this? Legislation. Uh oh.”

    But you know, there are things you can do without being a legislator.

    You can help those not registered through the process. It’s not that hard.

    You can bug those already registered to get out and vote.

    You can offer rides to people who have trouble getting to their polling place. You can offer to take someone’s shift if they can’t get to the polling place because of work.

    Many times, people sometimes just need a babysitter, or a ride, or a kick in the pants, or something mundane like that, to get them involved.

  14. This may sound like playing devil’s advocate, but I’ve got to have some sympathy for the telecoms’ view– through the FCC and such the government could end any telecommunications company with a few strokes of a regulatory pen, and at the very least turn their business into a nightmare of red tape.
    So when an arm of that government comes knocking and says “Show us what you’ve got”, it’s very much like a person reacting to the local mafia don wandering in and requesting a favor.

  15. “The site you linked to, I should add for those who haven’t visited it, has a comments section that they apparently think Dodd might actually read.”

    Oh they do, as do Keith Obermann’s people, there is no question of that. They have told us as much. FDL has some bright legal minds starting with Jane herself. You would probably like this thread at Emptywheel too Nick:

    Someone Doesn’t Want the Telecoms to Get Immunity

    Because they’re leaking–and leaking big–to James Risen, Eric Lichtblau (and Scott Shane) again. Almost two years to the day since their first big scoop.

    The big bombshell is this:

    “The bombshell in the NY times story was that NSA wanted access to the Class 5 switches. Thats the smoking gun that confirms that the Administration has been lying all along.”

    Class 5 switches are the ones closest to your house, where subscriber and end-user telephone lines connect.

    marksb comments:
    Everything changed in the early 2000’s.
    (1) Packets won over ATM cells for network traffic, and both IP packets and ATM on the backbone network became vulnerable to analysis–even real time analysis–because the analysis equipment advanced enough to do the capture in real time, or near-real time.
    (2) Computing equipment, especially huge parallel processing ‘farms’, became “off the shelf” and enabled massive traffic tracking and real time, or near-real time content-driven analysis. Also, network system software advanced to the point were people could write this stuff and have it work reliably.
    (3) Legal requirements forced all new switch installations and any retrofit upgrades at all telecoms to allow “legal intercept”, a nice word for tapping.


    “That’s exactly why the greedy f**ks want to control the Internet. They want to control what kind of content you are allowed to send, and at least have you pay for it. Again, in 2001 we were discussing a “micro-penny-per-packet” business model to the telecos. But you have to control the traffic to get there.”

    Actually Cicada, some are thinking that it is the other way around. The Telecos are expremely powerful. They own this country’s central nervous system.

  16. I’m an otherwise proud supporter of Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), but this response to my letter to him leaves me more than a little disappointed:

    As you may know, these allegations have instigated law suits against both the federal government and the companies for serious violations of privacy which can not be ignored. According to press reports, the companies were issued letters from the government compelling their cooperation. The companies have not been able to produce evidence in defense of themselves due to the White House invoking laws preventing such actions. Companies believe they should not be held responsible for responding to what they believe were legal demands placed on them by the federal government in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. At the same time, though, Congress must gain a full understanding of the context of these requests, legal opinions and justifications used by the executive branch to assert the legal right to conduct warrantless surveillance in the United States .

    On October 18, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), of which I am a proud member, approved a provision that would give retroactive legal immunity to private-sector companies alleged to have participated in the NSA program. While I believe it is appropriate for the NSA to monitor phone calls from suspected al Qaeda operatives, Congress equally must ensure that this is done in a way that safeguards our civil liberties. I feel the legislation agreed to balances these demands. Neither freedom nor national security in America should be presumed. Liberty and safety must be guaranteed by a system of checks and balances, of judicial and Congressional oversight. Congress, specifically the SSCI, has the responsibility to conduct Constitutional oversight of all intelligence collection means to ensure that this critical balance is met between civil liberties and national security. Clearly, we must do all we can to protect the American people.

  17. I wouldn’t mind so much if I thought there were a snowball’s chance in hell that they’d go after the White House.

  18. Just so you know, Reid caved: the pressure on the schedule by Dodd’s filibuster and the “contenciousness” of the bill has led him to postpone consideration of telecom immunity until after the holidays.

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