House passes wiretap telcom immunity bill

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75 Responses to “House passes wiretap telcom immunity bill”

  1. absimiliard says:

    W T H ?!?!?!?!?

    Some days I hate my country.

    -abs

  2. Spinobobot says:

    If obeying the government is reason for impunity, then a lot of mistakes were made during the Nuremberg trials. I hate to fulfill Godwin’s Law here, but the basic principle at stake makes it relevant. Being given orders that you recognize are legally or ethically suspect offers you no excuse if you act on them.

    That situation is unfortunate, and most of us are morally lucky not to find ourselves in circumstances like these. But there are some cases in which all of the options are bad, and trying to do what’s right can come with great personal sacrifice. Nobody ever said that being ethical was easy.

    This case, however, is somewhat different because we have corporations, not actual human beings, who are guilty. I still don’t understand people who bend over backwards in defense of corporations and the “free” market. The system is designed in such a way that only the most unscrupulous companies can succeed. By design, they do not give a shit about you or me except insofar as they can deprive us of our income by whatever means necessary.

    Even worse, it’s telco companies we’re talking about here. Is anyone satisfied with how they do business? Do you like being treated as a criminal by your ISP? Because if it’s not the government pushing it to invade your privacy, it’s the damn RIAA or MPAA that would be all too happy to impose a totalitarian surveillance state on us if it meant they could stop piracy and increase profits.

    These institutions are in effect superhuman psychopaths. Giving them free reign (i.e., the “free” market) is a recipe for disaster for everyone, including the executives who run them–in the long term. It’s even worse if you let them break what few laws we do have on the books to protect us.

  3. forgeweld says:

    Call your senators and ask them to strip telecom immunity or filibuster if necessary. Donate here to replace the architects of this travesty:

    http://actblue.com

  4. ill lich says:

    Why even try.

  5. tylersweeney says:

    it is as if our government does not live in the same place we do.

  6. Glitterfire says:

    I feel violated… on a societal level.

  7. picklefactory says:

    Noen @ #61:

    I more or less agree with catbeller, the reason the Dems have caved with FISA and refused to impeach is because Rove, or someone has them blackmailed.

    Why not do as Ockham suggests and refrain from multiplying entities needlessly? The obvious answer here is that the Dems don’t care about the NetRoots, the progressive agenda, or defending the Constitution. They LIKE this stuff. They think it’s a good idea, and they know you (plural) will vote for them anyway and tell folks that won’t that they’re Throwing Away Their Vote, Thanks Ralph! I mean, what are you gonna do, vote for the other guy ha ha snort, he’s crazy!

    Believing in this theoretical blackmail permits you to think that the political party you’re affiliated with is somehow not responsible for the wholesale destruction of civil rights, continuing to fund a useless war, and so on, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. They didn’t mean to do it, honest! The other, eerily similar party that also seems to want an imperialist police state drove them to it!

  8. Menlo Bob says:

    For most of those commenting on the new FISA legislation, attacks to this country are merely an abstract concept. The obligation of a government to defend itself takes second (or third) position behind laws that never anticipated modern day technology. For them, the real world needs to be whittled down to easily digested bits–and yet, when attacks do occur, they’ll know how to place blame far away from anything they’ve endorsed.

  9. breals says:

    The HOUSE passed the bill, not the Senate.

  10. Todd Sieling says:

    Shameful, indeed, but unsurprising, given that these are the same Democrats that have rolled over and supported unlimited and unprovoked war along with every unconstitutional assertion of executive power. Pathetic, and call your senator all you like. They know they don’t have to listen anymore.

  11. absimiliard says:

    You’re not wrong Breals. TFA is a bit off.

    But the factual error doesn’t, alas, make the actual content of the story any more palatable.

    -abs

  12. flamingphonebook says:

    The problem this bill solves (notwithstanding the ones it creates) is that without it, it requires companies to act as judges and lawyers. If one government agency comes to a telecom and says, “Turn over your records or we’ll prosecute you,” and another says, “Keep your records secure or we’ll prosecute you,” what does a company that wants to keep from the blow of the law do?

  13. anutron says:

    I’ve vowed to vote against any incumbent dem in either the house or the senate. I live in SF, which means I’m voting against Nancy Pelosi (which feels good). It’s futile, I know, but I refuse to give the only vote I have to someone who obviously does not represent me.

    Fudtards, the whole lot of them.

  14. Sean Eric FAgan says:

    And Obama has endorsed it (see http://talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/201032.php, amongst others, I’m sure).

    So the Speaker of the House, and both Presidential candidates, don’t care about the 4th Amendment.

    Pelosi’s statement says she swore an oath to protect and defend the country. But she didn’t — the Congressional oath is to support and defend the Constitution.

    An oath she violated today.

  15. Buckethead says:

    Flaminphonebook:

    You’re wrong.

    The law is that if the government wants telecoms to give up phone records or conversations, they need to go to a judge and get a warrant.

    “what does a company that wants to keep from the blow of the law do?”

    Obey the law!

  16. kkennedy says:

    If you want to check your Rep., here’s the link to the vote results: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2008/roll437.xml

  17. KurtMac says:

    Didn’t the Senate pass the same/similar bill that lets telcoms off the hook back in February? I’m so confused by the process. Either way, can we expect the same douchebaggery from them next week?

  18. WeightedCompanionCube says:

    Danny – good info on aritcle I of ECPA. I knew stored communications were protected by it, didn’t know in transit was. It’s flawed though: By the very nature of the Internet, even if you do have a warrant to sniff the traffic of a target, you’re not only going to capture the packets you are authorized to see, you’re going to get at lot of packets you aren’t. Even if you filter what you capture, it won’t prevent those packets from passing across the tap, which means the surveillance equipment sees it.

    While I’m also deeply concerned about the lack of oversight warrantless wiretaps poses, I don’t feel the people to be held responsible are the telecoms. The immunity makes sense in a way: even if what the president did was wrong, blaming the telcos for being cooperative is bad business. They’re critical infrastucture, and suing them to the brink of collapse would make them less likely to assist anyone in even lawful efforts. Besides, they’re smeared in the eyes of the public, and you can’t keep something secret when everyone knows about it. Klein blew the cover on it, and that was all that needed to be done.

    Haven’t politicians have always pardoned people who get caught up in their dirty dealings, usually right before they take the fall for it themselves?

    As for the class-action allegation of American-to-American surveillance: Where’s the proof? You can’t assume it must be true simply because the government refuses to talk about it: Proving something is NOT true can give away sensitive details about the operation.

    The EFF’s argument of massive surveillance is extremely misleading: Were billions of conversations funneled to the NSA? I don’t think so. Backbone fiber was split to the NSA equipment, but how much traffic does it actually pay attention to? See above about electronic surveillance of multiplexed traffic, even when you do have a warrant. My cable modem has a shared cable split to it, and see’s my neighborhood’s packets. Am I wiretapping them? Can the members of the class-action suit verify they were actual surveillance targets?

    To catbeller and others who are claiming this is all about political blackmail: The people who would do that never have and never will get a warrant. Not before Nixon, not after, never. It’s always been a dirty game, and you don’t need a secret room full of surveillance gear to play it.

  19. demidan says:

    Steaming Shit bags, reeking fuckballs!

  20. The Unusual Suspect says:

    America’s experiment with Liberty was glorious, while it lasted.

    It’s hard to believe it’s over now.

  21. Takuan says:

    warrant? I thought their willing cooperation in betrayal of duty of trust was the issue. It seems impossible to convict politicians. Let their stooges hang then.

  22. flamingphonebook says:

    “The law is that if the government wants telecoms to give up phone records or conversations, they need to go to a judge and get a warrant.”

    Yes, and that’s why the Bush administration should be investigated and charged with failing to do just that. But if I’m AT&T, and someone from the Bush administration, Homeland Security, FBI, etc., comes without a warrant, it should not be incumbent on me to decline to co-operate with the government.

    It would be like, if the police knock at my door without a warrant and ask to search the place, and I accede, and they find evidence of a crime my neighbor has committed, I haven’t violated his rights by allowing the search. It’s entirely within my purview to cooperate with a government agency, which often I would be willing to do.

    Now obviously that’s not a true analogy, because I’m not a phone company. A phone company has to maintain privacy of its users by FCC rules, yes? So what happens when the flip side happens? An agency gets the proper paperwork, but the phone company declines to give over the information because it’s worried about prosecution later on.

    “Obey the law!”

    And if the law says two contradictory things?

  23. Takuan says:

    oh, and good to see they arrested all those “kingpins” in the mortgage meltdown.

  24. Takuan says:

    pissed off? Get political. Send emails. Write letters.Blog. Make noise. Recruit others. Make more noise. Scream a little. Learn their filthy methods and adopt them.

    You do live somewhere where you can DO all that.
    In China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and many other countries you would be grabbed, questioned, tortured and killed for doing any of that. So? What are you doing?

  25. demidan says:

    Sorry about last post.

    to quote Jello:

    Finally got to Washington in the middle of the night
    I couldn’t wait
    I headed straight for the Capitol Mall
    My heart began to pound
    Yahoo! It really exists
    The American International Pictures logo

    I looked up at that Capitol Building
    Couldn’t help but wonder why
    I felt like saying “Hello, old friend”

    Walked up the hill to touch it
    Then I unzipped my pants
    And pissed on it when nobody was looking

  26. kkennedy says:

    #12 (kurtmac), the reason we’re doing this again is because the bills passed by the House and Senate back earlier in the year didn’t match (on immunity, among other things). This is the “compromise” legislation to sync things up. Now that it has passed the House, it goes to the Senate, where (hopefully) some folks like Sen. Dodd may consider a filibuster. Against their own party. What a world we live in, eh?

  27. william says:

    I wanted to encourage others to join me in Reply

  • Sean Eric FAgan says:

    FLAMINGPHONEBOOK@15… if the government — at any level — comes and requires a wiretap from you without a warrant, you are REQUIRED to say no. There are explicit laws about that, at both the state and federal level.

    Despite your ignorance of it, the law is not confusing here.

    Snippy decided to break the law. The phone companies agreed to break the law. Until they stopped getting paid, incidentally, at which point they stopped.

    Further, the telcos, and every other large business, have lawyers on staff to advise them of this. One telco said “no,” and got punished for it. And that telco’s CEO is in jail now, because he was not allowed to point out the probable cause of his company not getting the expected contracts.

    And now both Presidential candidates want to continue the rule of man, not rule of law.

  • WeightedCompanionCube says:

    whatever happened to

    08 May 2008:

    There’s a new rule about not mentioning presidential candidates unless the main entry mentions them first. That rule will remain in effect until the next president is elected.

    ?

    This isn’t about Obama or even about the Senate yet!

  • badger510 says:

    This is just the start of the evaporation of the constitution.

  • Buckethead says:

    Flaminphonebook: “And if the law says two contradictory things?”

    It doesn’t, it says one thing.

    “But if I’m AT&T, and someone from the Bush administration, Homeland Security, FBI, etc., comes without a warrant, it should not be incumbent on me to decline to co-operate with the government.”

    As Mr. Fagan says, if the government does this, they are breaking the law, and according to that law, it is incumbent on AT&T to refuse.

  • Antinous says:

    The rule is meant to deal with sloganeering and speechifying for or against candidates. Referencing the candidates’ positions on the issue is not a violation. If you have specific complaints, flag those comments for review and be clear about why you feel that they are in violation.

  • Caroline says:

    Anutron, I will vote for my House rep, because he voted “No” on this. Don’t vote for any incumbent Democrat who voted “Yes,” but support the ones who fought the good fight.

    Obama claims he’ll work to strip out the retroactive immunity provision in the Senate (that’s stated in the TPM link posted in #9 — remove the comma from the end of the URL). I sure hope so. How about working to strip out the continued domestic spying?

  • flamingphonebook says:

    “FLAMINGPHONEBOOK@15… if the government — at any level — comes and requires a wiretap from you without a warrant, you are REQUIRED to say no. There are explicit laws about that, at both the state and federal level.

    Despite your ignorance of it, the law is not confusing here.”

    Yes, I am ignorant of the law, and would like pointers. However, it is very confusing, or at least counterintuitive, that if the government participates in an illegal search that I can be held criminally responsible for not denying them.

    It’s like, if the government wanted to set up a camera in my home to watch my every move, I would have the right to accept. I have the right to privacy, but also the right to waive that right.

    OK, so a phone tap involves a third party, but I am expected to assume they wish to exercize their right to privacy? That is not intuitive to me.

  • moloko says:

    Call your senators people, it’s more productive than posting how angry you are.

  • darue says:

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  • noen says:

    picklefactory @ 66
    Today being a new day yeah, I can be persuaded that they are simply craven.

    The Bush admin started wholesale spying on everyone in Feb 2001. This likely entailed spying on all liberal and anti-war groups along with plans to round people up. The Dems knew about this after 9-11 and approved. Discovery in the Telecom suits would reveal the extent to which the Dems were complicit and acting in concert with Bush. Therefore discovery must not be allowed to go forward.

    Obama’s role is that he was likely offered a deal where Hillary backs off taking it to the convention in return for his acquiescence on immunity. He gets to grandstand but the bill will be passed.

    axaxaxas @ 65
    It is very bad. It guts the 4th amendment and allows the government to spy on all calls leaving the US. On the west coast this means virtually every call. You can therefore assume that the government is monitoring everything you say or do. Still worse, it allows the president or his toadies to determine what is or isn’t the law. Not the congress and not the courts. Welcome to the Unitary President of National Surveillance State.

  • darue says:

    bm s fll f sht. ny spprt fr ths bll s fls ctn. th xstng stttry FS systm s cmpltly dqt fr ny cmptnt prts t s t fght trrrsm. bm cn g strght t hll f h vts ths bll. h shld b spprtng th flbstr f ths bltntly ncnstttnl bllsht.

    • Antinous says:

      darue,

      I understand that you’re angry, but the point of comments is to have a discussion, not just to holler.

  • Captain_IX says:

    Sounds like a good time to switch over to Crd Mbl, or drop your phone provider entirely.

    Sure, these shills should be watching out for our rights, but with as inept a job they’re doing of it, this seems like a good time to watch out for our own interests.

    The saddest thing about this is watching people sworn to defend the constitution tear it apart. This is not a debate, what’s going on is unconstitutional.

  • Sean Eric FAgan says:

    However, it is very confusing, or at least counterintuitive, that if the government participates in an illegal search that I can be held criminally responsible for not denying them.
    So if a cop comes up to you, and tells you that you need to go shoot someone… you’re not guilty of murder?

  • Edmond says:

    @44 Catbeller

    “Mess with Bush, get ruined. Hm. Remember that restaurant that had the Bush twins fingered for fake IDs? Restaurant inspectors shut the place down in less than two weeks. Ruined. Bush doesn’t do it, people on his team make sure its done, and also keep him out of the loop.”

    I’m not sure where you’re getting your information from, but Chuy’s (the Austin establishment in which the Bush daughters were caught drinking alcohol while underage) is still doing its normal booming business on Barton Springs. They’re pretty far from “ruined”. I had some delicious enchiladas there about a year ago.

  • noen says:

    51 picklefactory
    What difference are the NetRoots making? Failing to hold accountable the Democrats who buckled like belts or even gladly jumped on board with this bill?

    I used the term NetRoots in the generic sense that candidates are able to raise money through non-traditional means i.e. the internet. Change just doesn’t happen over night picklefactory. Not even over one or two election cycles. It took 30 years for the GOP to complete it’s take over of all three branches of government. It will take at least that long for progressives. If we even get a chance, we lost the forth amendment today and Bush was given near dictatorial powers. That’s the big news you didn’t hear.

    I more or less agree with catbeller, the reason the Dems have caved with FISA and refused to impeach is because Rove, or someone has them blackmailed.

  • noen says:

    This is CYA by the Dems because they are complicit. The Telecos have spent millions to get this passed.

    You can register your disgust here if you’d like…

    You can find the full list of yays and nays here.

    Another factor are the Blue Dog Dems, conservative dems who vote with the GOP on security issues.

    Obama’s most recent statement:

    It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.

    Act Blue

    Color of Change

    Points to remember: Yes the Dems are weak and corrupt but the GOP really does want to install an Imperial Presidency. Change must come from inside, third parties only hand victory to your opponent. Genuine grassroot movents like ActBlue and NetRoots are making a difference. We are actually getting candidates who are not beholden to corporate interests. It will take time and it won’t happen without your help.

  • M. Mitchell says:

    As with most of the important-to-oppose legislation, the FISA business was attached to OTHER legislation that is needed.
    In this case, the wussy FISA bill was attached to the new GI Bill and extending unemployment benefits bill.
    To oppose the FISA bill will be responded to as an opposition to the GI Bill and extended unemployment bill.
    Most everything the current administration has wanted, was attached to other legislation. To reverse any part is to reverse the other legit passings thereby making it VERY difficult for a future President or Congress to undo.

  • Santos says:

    Sweep the cowards out.

  • WeightedCompanionCube says:

    Noen, that really is the most paranoid thing I’ve read so far. You’re making yourself look foolish. Look at it this way: If the NSA were to strongarm the wrong public figure (Obama or otherwise) and that person went public about it, the whole thing would get (even more) torpedoed. Blackmail often turns around and bites those who try it in the ass.

    Danny – Outdated laws can sometimes hinder people from doing the right thing as well as the wrong thing. If I were to venture a guess at why this program bypasses FISA, I’d guess it is for the reasons you suspect: To perform data mining. That doesn’t mean they weren’t ultimately doing exactly what they have admitted to: Surveillance on foreign targets. And I’ll admit I support data mining: IMO, to target or arrest a US citizen should require a warrant, but there are lots of ways foreign criminal activity can be funneled through American communications systems. Think botnets, calling card or PBX fraud, even things like TOR. You need massive data mining to track that kind of stuff, and you’re going to have to look at a lot of things that don’t have an immediate connection to the subject you ultimately have a warrant for.

    Google has datacenters all over the place, and you can use it to data mine for things that a lot of people would have rather kept private. And Google is actively spidering. The NSA equipment is connected to passive fiber taps. Which is the lesser of two evils, and why or why not?

    Not to mention that government agencies do have the oversight of the people involved at all levels. Do I think the government and everyone in it is infallible? I know they aren’t. But I think that for everyone who would exploit secrecy to do something truly wrong, there is someone who would blow the whistle in the name of stopping it. As for this program: Klein didn’t know enough about it to make that judgment. He just wanted people to know about it.

    Intel programs are sensitive for a reason: if the full details are made public, the program is ruined even if it is aboveboard.

  • Caroline says:

    Noen FTW.

    I’m hoping that Obama succeeds in getting immunity stripped — which would trigger a veto from Bush. If he doesn’t, though, I better see him vote No. (Or what? I don’t know; we can’t afford McCain. But just on general principles.)

  • raisedbywolves says:

    This is some really bad shit, and I for one am severly disappointed by Obama’s lack of action on this. He’s still my candidate but holy fuck.

  • WeightedCompanionCube says:

    pissed off? Get political. Send emails. Write letters.Blog. Make noise. Recruit others. Make more noise. Scream a little. Learn their filthy methods and adopt them.

    You do live somewhere where you can DO all that.
    In China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and many other countries you would be grabbed, questioned, tortured and killed for doing any of that. So? What are you doing?

    so, if we can still do that, remind me again hot the constitution has been thrown out, and how we all need to advance on Washington DC as heavily armed as possible?

    Please keep in mind the wiretapping in question here involves non-Americans (and not just any but those of U.S. intelligence services interest) being on one end of the line. I’ve been over and over this in my head, and I just can’t convince myself this is really targeted towards Americans.

    The government doesn’t need a warrant to spy on non-American targets. (And for that matter, other governments certainly don’t bother to get one to spy on the US) So the wiretap gets set up on the trunks to record all calls to/from certain foreign phone numbers. After all, a lot of calls get routed through those points even if they never terminate in the USA. However, we don’t know who they might call. Maybe an American calls the tapped number, maybe one never does, but the target of the surveillance and the reasoning for it does not involve US citizens.

    Also, consider this: Internet traffic, while in transit, has never been under the protection of the Wiretap Act (unless it’s VoIP, arguably?) and you probably use it more than you use the phone.

  • sum.zero says:

    “OK, so a phone tap involves a third party, but I am expected to assume they wish to exercize their right to privacy? That is not intuitive to me.”

    you do not choose to exercise this right. the default setting is ON/TRUE.

  • demidan says:

    I know this is a very late post, but here goes anyway.

    Most of this debate is moot. The warrants not being necessary on domestic calls that is, our government knew this a while ago, and have had the major telephone trunk lines routed off shore since 2001. This way all most all of the calls made within the U.S. are funneled out of the U.S. and then back, therefore these calls come from outside of the country and so warrants are not necessary to listen in on conversations.

  • flamingphonebook says:

    “So if a cop comes up to you, and tells you that you need to go shoot someone… you’re not guilty of murder?”

    I’d have to say no, on this logic. When a man puts a gun to your head and says to shoot someone or he’ll kill you, and you do so, then he, and not you, is guilty of murder. To my view, the government always has a gun to the head of the citizen. It’s their guilt if you listen.

  • Linds says:

    If it’s unconstitutional can’t you sue and have it struck down in the courts? I’m pretty sure that’s how it works in Canada

  • Takuan says:

    “par·a·noi·a Audio Help /ËŒpærəˈnɔɪə/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[par-uh-noi-uh] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation
    –noun
    1. Psychiatry. a mental disorder characterized by systematized delusions and the projection of personal conflicts, which are ascribed to the supposed hostility of others, sometimes progressing to disturbances of consciousness and aggressive acts believed to be performed in self-defense or as a mission.
    2. baseless or excessive suspicion of the motives of others.”

    uhhh…no.

  • Sister Y says:

    You can consent to a search of your own house, even if it turns up evidence of your neighbor’s guilt. But you can’t consent to a search of your neighbor’s house.

    Constitutional guarantees only apply to government action (not private action). But they’re meaningless if the government can just get private actors to do all that prohibited stuff for them!

    What meaning would your right to be free from a warrantless search of your bathroom have if the government could just pay your plumber to search it for them?

    Usually the issue is just about admissibility of evidence obtained that way – collaborators who help the government invade your privacy rarely get stuck with lawsuits, ’cause usually they’re poor inmates with no assets. But in this case, limiting rights to that kind of enforcement would render them meaningless. This government doesn’t seem like it would be particularly concerned that evidence seized wouldn’t be admissible in court. That would imply that they actually intended to give people a right to a trial.

  • E0157H7 says:

    Run the cowards out. Pitchforks and torches are called for.

  • Avram says:

    Linds — Maybe the courts will overturn it, maybe they won’t. Bush’s two appointees have been chosen for their friendliness towards all-encroaching executive power.

  • Sean Eric FAgan says:

    Avram@40 — I think you mean all-encroaching Republican executive power.

  • Bobdotcom says:

    @37 Linds: in theory, yes. But this is the United States. The ability to do that is getting more and more difficult by the day.

  • Ugly Canuck says:

    Flamingphoneybook:
    We are human beings not tools .
    Turn the gun on your tormentor.
    Turn the gun on yourself.
    Anyway these are Megacorps. for cryin’ out loud they have to bend over backward not to spy on you in the course of business …you have a contract (heavily regulated) with them..
    Only way forward looks like the lights are gonna go dark in the USA as the Internet now is a spy tool…DARPA’s Long View?

  • catbeller says:

    The Bushies have been recording phone calls and emails since 2001 — think of this hard: how many Representatives and Senators have been blackmailed — or are afraid of blackmail, even if they have not been contacted?

    Consider! The Bush team has access to *everything* we say on the phones and email. Remember Scott Ritter and the Magical Disappearing Pedophilia Charges? Who doesn’t have something to hide — mistresses, gambling, homosexuality, web surfing for porn? Hell, as in Ritter’s case, they didn’t even have the evidence — they just made the raid, and let innuendo do the rest. Then dropped the case, no explanations. Ritter was off TV for years; he still has no ability to appear on network TV. They ruined him by remote control.

    Believe it, everyone understood that Bush sent a signal. Same deal with Valerie Plame, tho in a different way. Mess with Bush, get ruined. Hm. Remember that restaurant that had the Bush twins fingered for fake IDs? Restaurant inspectors shut the place down in less than two weeks. Ruined. Bush doesn’t do it, people on his team make sure its done, and also keep him out of the loop. Tho it appears his hands were all over the Plame treason.

    Wanna bet the Bushies made *extra special* care to tap the Congress’s communications? Sucker bet. Come right up and drop a nickel into the bet jar.

  • catbeller says:

    Re FISA:

    Warrants are issued by the FISA court yes. But here’s the thing: in an emergency, the wiretaps can be carried out, and the agency involved must go to FISA court and ask for a retroactive warrant, more or less, within three days.

    There is no problem with red tape with the FISA system. The item that the Bushies removed was this: there is no longer a record of the investigation. That’s it. That’s the entire thrust of this nonsense. With FISA, eventually with a FOIA request, someday, we could have found out who and what Bush was tapping. Now, we can’t know, as there are no records if the Bushies don’t want there to be.

    Want to make another bet: secret investigations mean political vendettas. Betcha peace organizations, news reporters — those few left — and the Democratic Party were high-value targets for the secret police communications monitors. Another bet: you know the inexplicable weird behavior of the Democratic majority in Congress? The refusal to impeach, to investigate? Now more powers for the besterd who did all this? How much does the President’s men have on everyone, now, after they’ve tapped everyone’s communications?

  • zuzu says:

    Yes, and that’s why the Bush administration should be investigated and charged with failing to do just that. But if I’m AT&T, and someone from the Bush administration, Homeland Security, FBI, etc., comes without a warrant, it should not be incumbent on me to decline to co-operate with the government.

    Yes, it should, actually. That’s the price of liberty.

  • catbeller says:

    @Sean Eric FAgan

    Nailed it, didn’t you? Those executive power fans on the Supreme Court will whittle down Obama’s powers at every opportunity. Relentlessly, logically, brutally. A sudden conversion to limits on Presidential power will occur as soon as a donkey flag is run up the pole.

  • Takuan says:

    don’t forget the money. “Silver or lead, it’s up to you”

    You can thank J. Edgar Hoover for this.

  • jtegnell says:

    And replace them with whom?

    Obama says “Go team! Hooray for immunity!”

    What a pussy. I’m so disappointed.

  • Mike Estee says:

    @44 CATBELLER :

    Bingo, we have a winner!

    That is one of the better summaries of why this whole mess is so damn nasty. What we’re watching at the moment is the side effects of political gamesmanship at its finest bubbling out into the public record.

    Warrant-less wiretaps for the party in power with no traceability? Hot damn! Really, you’d be stupid *not* to tap your opponents for dirt.

  • Danny O'Brien says:

    @weightedcompanioncube

    The EFF’s argument of massive surveillance is
    extremely misleading: Were billions of conversations funneled to the NSA? I don’t think so. Backbone fiber was split to the NSA equipment, but how much traffic does it actually pay attention to?

    The two parts of your paragraph don’t match: no matter how much traffic the NSA does or does not “pay attention to”, the backbone fiber split funnelled *all* conversations to the NSA; and that’s exactly what was illegal under the letter of the law, and of the constitution. Our statement, even in your characterisation, is exactly correct.

    You’re claiming that there is no way that the NSA could operate without having a pre-filter, operated and managed by the telcos, prior to the data disappearing into their secret room. Actually, every other law enforcement system in the US operates on that principle: why not the NSA.

    There are a couple of possibilities. One, the NSA is so *super-secret* that it could not possibly trust anyone outside of the organization with such a dread responsibility. I won’t get into the details of the fallacy of this argument, but I’d point out, again, that the FBI and others are perfectly happy to share sufficient information with cleared individuals. Those who believe that our fight against terrorists should require more secrecy than an FBI RICO investigation should perhaps consider the relative probabilities that an individual local telco engineer could be bought by Al Quaeda vs. the local Mafia dons. Please also note that the government continues to seriously claim that the information of the NSA taps is so secret that not even the Federal court system, which regularly deals with highly classified information can be trusted with the knowledge.

    The other possibility is more practical: that the NSA needs the entire feed because it’s conducting a data-mining operation; searching all the conversations for indicators and connections to known terrorists. That’s what many of the leaks about the “President’s Program” have alleged.

    If that were so, then it would explain the need for the taps. It would also explain why some of the FISA judges were (allegedly) so concerned about the procedure. It would also explain the secrecy, and why the executive did not go to Congress to get the law changed to explicitly allow the telcos and the executive to conduct this program. This is because such a program would be, under almost every consideration, illegal under FISA and unconstitutional under the Fourth amendment.

    From what you’ve said, I think you might actually support such data-mining. You’d argue that given that it’s just algorithms searching everyone’s conversations for suspicious behaviour or connections to known terrorists, then it’s not really the same as the “general warrants” that the fourth amendment was designed to forbid. I’d disagree: but let’s have that debate out in the open.

    Right now, the way the new FISA law is engineered, we’re leaving that decision to take place within the closed confines of the executive. We can’t even try and demarcate the differences by spellling out the law, or preventing non-executive figures from getting involved in procedures that could lead to such law-breaking.

    The way you want things to work would place an inhuman burden on the fallible humans in our government and government agencies: to be both responsible for protecting the safety of Americans and being sole guardians of the constitutionality of their actions. We have checks and balances not just to protect the worst of human impulses, but the best. You need someone else to guard you from overreaching your power, and one of the checks in FISA was the liability of the telcos. They’d say no to a request that wasn’t accompanied by the correct statutory permissions, because they knew they would be breaking the law, and would be sued. They are not the victim of their own law-breaking: they are a victim of their refusal to partipate in the rule of law.

  • catbeller says:

    @NOEN:

    True that (some) of the Democrats are complicit, especially the leadership, in this, and in the torture camps, and in so many other things. They truly Believed in the Terrorist Threat. Or at least their constituents did, and they went along.

  • WeightedCompanionCube says:

    #2 for sure, maybe #1.

  • picklefactory says:

    Noen:

    Genuine grassroot movents like ActBlue and NetRoots are making a difference.

    What difference are the NetRoots making? Failing to hold accountable the Democrats who buckled like belts or even gladly jumped on board with this bill?

    Electing Mo-Betta Democrats that will continue to buckle, irrespective of the bloggy noise involved?

    Face it folks — the NetRoots are happy proggy Useful Idiots who will pull the lever for the lesser of two evils when it comes right down to it, time and time again.

  • axaxaxas says:

    This is pretty bad, but I’m not sure it’s as earth-shatteringly bad as some people are making it out to be.

    This bill only grants telecoms immunity from civil action, not criminal charges — the telecoms would be immune to lawsuits, but still (potentially) accountable to the criminal justice system.

    This bill also does nothing to prevent the government or people within the Bush administration from being held accountable for putting the wiretapping programs in place — who, in my opinion, are at greater fault than the telecoms.

    I don’t know if I actually expect to see justice served or not, but even if this bill passes the Senate, I wouldn’t give up hope.

  • Danny O'Brien says:

    @weightedcompanioncube

    I’m not sure where you’re getting your information. Firstly, Internet communications most certainly are statutorily protected against government surveillance, under ECPA.

    Secondly, the lawsuits at the center of the immunity fight are specifically *about* domestic communications, not communications with foreign contacts.

    If that was all this was about, the telcos wouldn’t *need* immunity, because all of the members of the class action are American citizens talking to American citizens. As the Reagan-nominated Judge currently considering the case said:

    “AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the alleged domestic dragnet was legal.”

    I get that you take the government’s side that they did not conduct domestic surveillance. But doesn’t it give you some pause when they specifically and retrospectively pass a law allowing them to do it anyway?

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