NSA boss wants companies to be immunized from liability if they follow illegal orders from the NSA

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.

NSA Boss Asks Congress For Blanket Immunity For Companies That Help NSA Spy On Everyone


  1. of course they do, because corporations are people…THE PEOPLE, the only people the government cares about. and if they come under fire well they might be upset with the government.
    instead let’s make the corporations immune to all laws as long as the NSA says it’s ok.
    hey while were at it, let’s just get rid of those pesky laws altogether and we wont need to keep passing legislation, that would sure speed things up, let’s just say “the law is whatever the NSA and FBI say it is, even if they don’t say what it is to you”

  2. How soon we forget… of course NSA & Congress considers this a good idea. After all, didn’t we just go through this with the whole Room 641A “scandal”?

    Section 404 (Continuance Procedures) allows for continued authorizations and directives to be renewed under same circumstances indefinitely; It also allowed for continuance of Immunities for persons and corporations (including but not limited to telecoms) under FISA 2008 Amendments. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protect_America_Act

  3. I would love to hear the excuses on this from all of the authoritarians who were so anxious to condemn Edward Snowden for failing to live up to his contract. Apparently relatively powerless individuals are to be held accountable, but not the agencies which violate the law wholesale.

    Now we have the NSA and corporate America setting the rules so that they are both immune from blame. But if they are following the law as they have claimed, why do they need to be immunized?

    You can’t make this shit up.

    1. Hitting like 1000x.  Next up:  NSA, CIA and FBI ask Congress for blanket immunity in case they ever break the law.

  4. I am sure that our representatives will push back against this absurd request that rule of law be ignored.  lol j/k

  5. And this, the most disfunctional Congress in decades, will pass this with no trouble whatsoever.  And our Constitutional Scholar President will ignore that ‘goddam piece of paper’ and sign it.

    1. I does seem like we’ve gone from slippery slope to downward spiral.

      Ever since GW Bush, they don’t even bother to hide their absoulte indifference to the will and well-being of average Americans (who don’t own super mega yachts).

      I think they’re still going with a theory that even if they blatantly do things that are wrong right in our faces, they can simply tell us it’s ok through mass media and manufacture consent.

      I’ll love the day when that stops working so well…  There are signs that people are getting fed up and the corporatists do seem more nervous than usual, but we’ll see.. we’ll see…

      Personally, I think some more patriotic whistleblower leaks are in order…

      1. In Snowden’s recent Guardian Q&A, he said (paraphrased), more leaks are coming and the US government can’t stop it even by jailing or killing him.

        The elite’s constant panic about the great unwashed commoner uprising barely being held in check is just a self-fulfilling prophecy if they’re going to act like the bourgeousie. I’m not wishing for it to happen, but they’re sure steering the world towards the ice for all their screaming that they don’t want the Titanic to go down under them.

        1.  It begs the question:  what would the elite have to do to make the bourgeoisie NOT want to leak their secrets to bring them down?  Play nicely? Fair wages? Decent benefits and fair working conditions? Keep privacy intact? Keep freedom ringing?  And yet the elite canNOT bring themselves to do it.  It makes you think how pathological they are, how sick, twisted and psycho they are, thinking that it will go on indefinitely with their dirty, spiked boot heel on our necks…  Rude awakenings are wonderful, aren’t they?  They have one coming…

      2. “… things that are wrong right…”
        Wonderful use of opposing contrast. Although, this proposal to congress sounds like something Mr. J. Taggert would emplore his cronies too enact a la Ayn Rayn’s Atlas Shrugged.

  6. If we the people,  really want “constitutionally compliant” security, then NSA requests should also carry some liability for the cooperating organization.  This way everyone needs to actually think about what they’re doing and if it’s really legal or not.

    This attempt at providing immunity is like saying “You’ll be in trouble if you don’t honor our request but you will never be in trouble for honoring our request”. What would any corporate lawyer say to that?

  7. It wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable if it was possible to sue the NSA for handing out illegal orders.

    1. And if the companies and their employees were also immunized from prosecution for leaks/whistleblowing.

  8. Two thoughts: 
    1. This reminds me of Nuremberg, the main principle of which is you can’t say you were just following orders. You are obliged under international law to report war crimes for example, ala Manning. So if an ISP breaks the law to help the NSA break the law – perhaps involving kidnapping, torture and murder – they are immune from prosecution? Of course, under international law, this is meaningless, and the ISP would potentially be complicit with murder.

    2. It won’t be long before corporations have all this valuable data, if they don’t already. This means no more data protection. It can become a kind of free for all. We might as well make everything about everyone public. If we can’t seriously contemplate that option, then the alternative is a kind of totalitarian, digital fascism. Perhaps we best get busy making programs to dissemble life stream data. There are countermeasures. Create conflicting data. Introduce uncertainty. Flood them with data. Etc. 

    Anecdote: In Canada we once had a very positive attitude to demographic data. Pre-PC era. It was used as a method of smart government. It was good. It was futuristic. Participation was a kind of duty. It was a public trust for public benefit. Then some fucks sold the lot to marketers for $1 and that was that. Zero trust. Zero cooperation. 

    1.  We no longer follow the Nuremberg principals, we dropped that an administration or two ago. In the view of Washinton, there is no such thing as an illegal order.

  9. The first counter argument is obvious. If they have done nothing wrong, then they have nothing to fear.

    And I will give the corporations immunity under one condition. Every government official, judge, NSA agent(? are they agents?) and NSA contractor who ordered these corporations to break the law serves time in jail for every request they made or approved.

  10. I just want to say thank you BoingBoing for such awesome and consistent reporting on all this craziness.

  11. So let’s see. Companies can’t be prosecuted for violating the law if the government asked them to. The government can’t be prosecuted because of sovereign immunity and because the fact that the law has been broken is a state secret.


    Apparently, there are laws that can be broken with no one responsible for breaking them.

    Who would have thought having a constitutional lawyer as president could lead to such innovations? It’s another breakthrough for openness, transparency and the rule of law.

  12. Sure, it’s fine, as long as “General” Alexander IS liable for asking, suggesting, or ordering them to do something illegal as ARE any of his minions at NSA or those people (that are or are not really people, we know who you are) that make up their own illegal requirements and they all go to jail because of it.

  13. Meanwhile, the ex-CEO of Qwest is in Club Fed on trumped-up charges, because he dared to say no.

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