General Keith Alexander, who is in charge of the NSA, has asked Congress to pass legislation immunizing companies from liability if they break the law following NSA spying orders. While on its face this seems reasonable -- if the government orders you to do something, it seems unfair for its judicial branch to prosecute you -- it's really a tacit admission of NSA lawbreaking. Much more reassuring would be a promise from Alexander that his agency will limits its requests of companies to strictly lawful behavior, and a Congressional law immunizing companies that turn down NSA requests if they have a good faith basis for believing that the NSA is asking them to break the law.
Otherwise, as Mike Masnick points out, this is an invitation for companies and the NSA to conspire together for a campaign of lawless, criminal spying:
And, of course, rather than narrowly target this immunity, it appears that Alexander would like it as broad as possible.
One former White House aide told POLITICO that Alexander has been asking members of Congress for some time to adopt bill language on countermeasures that’s “as ill-defined as possible” — with the goal of giving the Pentagon great flexibility in taking action alongside Internet providers. Telecom companies, the former aide said, also have been asking Alexander for those very legal protections.
Given the revelations of the past few weeks, this seems like the exact wrong direction for Congress to be heading. We should want companies to push back against overaggressive demands from the government for information. Giving them blanket immunity would be a huge mistake and only enable greater privacy violations.