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June 20, 2008

FISA fiasco: Telecom immunity

Hilzoy succinctly explains why the FISA telecom immunity provision is a terrible idea:

The sticking point is whether companies that helped the government engage in surveillance that broke the law should receive immunity for their actions. It seems to me clear that the answer is 'no'. First, people who break the law should be held accountable. Second, we're not talking about some private citizen who might understandably have been inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt on questions of law, but about large companies with serious legal departments. Third, since our government does not seem inclined to tell us exactly what it has been doing, discovery in these lawsuits has been about the only way in which we have found out anything at all. Shutting down these lawsuits might prevent us from ever finding out.

Most importantly, though, when the government asks someone to break the law, they hold a lot of the cards: the prestige of the Presidency, the power to exclude companies from federal contracts, and so on. Just about the only reason someone might have to say no, other than conscience, is the fear of legal liability. By immunizing these companies, we make it much more likely that the next time some President who thinks he has dictatorial powers asks a company to break the law, it will do so. And that's just wrong. [Obsidian Wings]

The so-called "compromise" on telecom immunity is actually an outright amnesty. The bill protects illegal wiretappers from lawsuits. If the phone company knowingly follows an illegal order from the president and taps your phone, you lose your right to sue for damages. That means that the phone companies have no incentive whatsoever to pay attention to the law and every incentive to do whatever the president asks them to.

Think about how many of these firms have multi-billion dollar contracts with the federal government. Saying "no" to the POTUS over a measly little thing like the law could ultimately cost a company billions of dollars.

Without the threat of a lawsuit, the phone company has zero incentive to respect the law and the rights of its customers.

The fact that the telecom lobby is so desperate for retroactive immunity makes you wonder what they've already done, doesn't it? Maybe someday a bunch of us will discover that our right to millions of dollars in compensatory damages evaporated this week, thanks to the cravenness of House Democrats.

In the military, following orders is no defense when those orders are illegal. Why do we have a different standard for the telecoms?

Update: You can help by making a donation to Blue America PAC vs. Retroactive Immunity. It would be money well-spent. Thanks to Eric and Brautigan for suggesting the Act Blue link.

Signing up for "Act Blue Express" allows one to opt-out of receiving postal mail.

The Blue America PAC is affiliated with the blogs "Crooks and Liars" and "Down with Tyranny."


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The telcoms should be commended, and not punished, for cooperating with the government in their efforts to keep you an me safe. Which has been successful for nearly eight years.

Despite the pernicious efforts of Senator Patrick Leahy and his litigious and fraudulent friends.

I just may send Verizon a letter of thanks. And hopefully you all will too.

Sorry, nearly seven years.

This just covers civil liability, right? Presumably there is still criminal liability just sitting there waiting for an AG with more integrity than instinct for self preservation to come along.


Yes, you should get Obama say that he will prosecute phone companies for coooperating with US anti-terrorism efforts. That will really help him win the election.

I look forward to the opportunity to cooperate with the government in keeping America safe by violating the law, especially if it involved breaking into Phantom's home and rifling through his underwear. Of course that assumes someone accuses him of being a terrorist, which would never happen. Unless some plucky commenter decides to step up to the plate so I can fulfill my fantasy. Nudge nudge wink wink, saynomore...


Spare us your fantasies about going through men's underwear.

And yes, we are all agreed that Obama should loudly proclaim an intention to prosecute telcoms who cooperated with US Govt antiterrorism efforts?

You raise a superb point, and I may have to continue this conversation in a few places. I want to know exactly where the empty suit stands on this issue.

Nothing to see here, no conflict of interest at all. Keep moving!

The Phantom -

Companies should be commended for LEGAL cooperation.

They should be sued for ILLEGAL cooperation.

The Reps who voted YES (Nancy Pelosi, Jane Harman, Steny Hoyer) chose to protect phone companies which behaved illegally.

LB, please consider putting up an ActBlue link here.

The telcoms should be commended, and not punished, for cooperating with the government in their efforts to keep you an me safe. Which has been successful for nearly eight years.

Homer Simpson: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.

Lisa Simpson: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.

Homer: Thank you, dear.

Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.

Homer: Oh, how does it work?

Lisa: It doesn’t work.

Homer: Uh-huh.

Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.

Homer: Uh-huh.

Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?

[Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]

Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

This is one of the times I really like being from MA. All the MA reps voted against this.

cooperating with the government in their efforts to keep you an me safe

We'd all like to believe that that is all the Bush Admin. is doing with their extraordinary surveillance powers, but with this “compromise”, we'll never know, will we? Excuse me for not having the childlike faith in BushCo.'s benevolent intentions required to endorse the new FISA/telecom deal, but the last eight years have taught me better.

Excuse me for not having a childlike faith in the Human Rights Industry, and in trial lawyers who happen to make fat contributions to Democratic Party candidates. Follow the money.

I'd be happy to include an Act Blue link, post it in comments and I'll insert it.

Blue America PAC vs Retroactive Immunity

Signing up for "Act Blue Express" allows one to opt-out of receiving postal mail.

The Blue America PAC is affiliated with the blogs "Crooks and Liars" and "Down with Tyranny."

As opposed to a child-like faith in Big Government The Phantom?

So much for that Fourth Amendment ...

The subject of this post is the willingness of this administration and too many body-snatched democrats to dismiss the violation of constitutional rights with a cavalier cynicism. I'd to introduce another example of outrageous conduct by some of our elected officials.

Earlier in administration of George "The Afraid", when the Republicans had undisputed control of Congress, executives from the top oil companies were invited before a committee for a chat. I say 'chat' because the execs would not appear if they had to testify under oath. So the Republican chair (sorry, don't remember the name) held the hearing without swearing in the good ole boys. The Democrats objected to the dispensation of a sworn oath before their testimony. The chair ruled them out of order. The amazing thing was the complete lack of public response to the event.

In the failure to require the oil execs to give sworn testimony we have a publicly sanctioned authorization to lie to the people of this country. Not one Republican, let alone the administration, was embarrassed by this. There was no sense of shame or self-consciousness.

Neither of these examples - immunity for the telecons nor testimony without an oath - is trivial. Is there anything more fundamental than what we teach our children: do not to lie, do not to steal, and do not to violate other people's rights.

... thanks to the cravenness of House Democrats

I understand the sentiment, Lindsay — the passage of this bill is utterly sickening to anyone who believes in the principles on which the U.S. was founded — but I disagree with the phrasing. It's true that a disgusting number of Congressional Dems voted for this bill, but it's important to keep in mind that, except for a lone Republican, ONLY Congressional Dems voted against it.

Congress is dominated by corporatists: the lock-step corporatists of the Republican Party, and the 'corporatists with a human face' segment of the Democrats. Saying that 'the Dems' caused this bill to pass ill serves those Dems who voted to protect the Constitution, and obscures the reflexive cravenness of the Republicans.

Phantom, that Townhall article says that 66 trial lawyers suing telephone companies gave $1.5 million to Democrats (whose views on telecom amnesty are unspecified) over an unspecified period of time. I'm not sure exactly what your argument is here. That telecom amnesty is good because some trial lawyers who sue telephone companies gave money to Democrats who may or may not support telecom amnesty?

If money in politics is enough to discredit a position in your eyes, does it make any difference how much the telecom companies have spent on lobbying?

Here's what Capital Eye blog has to say:

Published by Lindsay Renick Mayer on June 20, 2008 2:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The telecom industry had something to phone home about this week--Congress has reached an agreement on a bill that would protect the industry's major players from lawsuits related to their role in the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Although AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and the other companies facing more than 40 lawsuits haven't spoken at all about it publicly, they've been heard loud and clear on Capitol Hill. The industry has spent a total $13.4 million on lobbying in the first three months of this year, putting it on course to surpass last year's $40.2 million total. Both AT&T and Verizon moved up in the ranks of companies spending on lobbying efforts (including those in all industries), from eighth and 13th last year to third and fourth, respectively, so far this year.

The industry has also given a total of $5.3 million in federal contributions to parties, committees and candidates this election cycle, with 54 percent going to Republicans. That figure excludes any money given to Congress since March 30, i.e. contributions made as lawmakers prepared to vote on the immunity issue. CRP will be downloading new congressional and presidential data from the Federal Election Commission on June 30, which will reflect the most recent total from the industry. Telecom companies gave $7.6 million in the 2006 election cycle and leaned even more Republican then, giving 62 percent of the total to the GOP. In March, Capital Eye wrote about how much money the various telecom companies had given to lawmakers who supported or opposed the immunity. We found that senators who supported protecting the telecom companies from lawsuits received more money from the industry than those who didn't vote to immunize them.

"The telcoms should be commended, and not punished, for cooperating with the government in their efforts to keep you an me safe. Which has been successful for nearly eight years."

Good point. Also that guy on the Long Island train deserves a medal for punching a woman in the face.

"Excuse me for not having a childlike faith in the Human Rights Industry"

Yes, the "Human Rights Industry" is clearly a powerful industry that dwarfs telecoms with their mighty influence.

Stupid much?

"The telcoms should be commended, and not punished, for cooperating with the government in their efforts to keep you an me safe. Which has been successful for nearly eight years."

And we all remember how spectacular terrorist attacks by foreigners were a regular feature of life before this glorious administration.

"Excuse me for not having a childlike faith in the Human Rights Industry, and in trial lawyers who happen to make fat contributions to Democratic Party candidates. Follow the money."

And now you've gone and make me shoot coffee out my nose. Its always a bad idea for a clown to accuse someone else of looking foolish, and its a VERY bad idea for any remaining devotee of the cult of Bush to accuse another person of either excessive gullibility, or insufficient commitment to the cause of "freedom".

See also:


Don't think for a second that I'm necessarily a fan of Verizon or the rest of them. I begin from the premises that

-their cooperation with the government in this surveillance is an entirely admirable thing

-it is morally wrong to subject them to retaliation through the courts for having done an entirely admirable thing.

Subjecting them to a series of trials can have one possible negative outcome, and one definite negative outcome.

The first is that some judge will say that its wrong to cooperate with the government in antiterrorism efforts, and that they would be slapped with a big award against them.

The second would be the immense amount of legal costs and expediture of anagement time in preparation, depositions, plus time in the courtroom.

There will be many weasels in the corporations who will want no part of any of this. Their response will be to minimize the impact of the torrent of lawsuits by settling with the ACLU and the rest of them. Which could mean no more cooperation, unless compelled by a court order. Which is no cooperation at all.

The phone companies are profit seeking companies, and every one of them have lobbyists. Its a disgrace, but it is not a new situation. The telcoms lobby for a great deal of reaons, including the rapid rate of technological change with both land and cell lines, taxation issues, phone companies providing TV and internet services, a million other things, all of which involve regulation by the federal govt and others. Immnunity from harassment over cooperating in antiterrorism is only one issue in a very long list of concerns that they have.

Trial lawyers are not massive corporations employing many thousands and providing essential services, like the ones we are communicating on right now.

Trial law firms are small and parasitical organizations who operate like the Mafia or like the privateers of the old days. They provide no service, they employ few, and they they represent a drain on the US economy. You don't have the level of trial law activity in any other country that we have here. Either we're vastly more corrupt than any other country that ever existed, or we are fools for allowing this RICO-lawyer activity to continue.

Just as a for profit corporation expects something in return for every legal bribe (campaign contribution ) that they drop in a politicians begging bowl, so does a for profit law firm expect something very tangible for the legal bribes that they give to their own surrogates in the Congress of the USA.

The phone companies did not profit from cooperating in anti-terror efforts. They seek protection from unfair attacks after the fact which are meant to bleed them and tie them (and the government's antiterror efforts as a whole ) down after the fact.

Some of the trial lawyers in these 40 lawsuits spoken of would certainly seek to profit from these suits, via the contingency fees that their firms would earn in coerced settlements.

Again, I'm not in the pocket of the phone companies, but they're on the side of the angels on this one ( and probably ONLY on this one )

Its the trial lawyers who are seeking to subvert the system and line their pockets. ( And to the extent that some of them are lefties who are opposed to the War on Terror in the first place, its a total win-win. They get to "do good" (lining their pockets) by doing bad ( undermining the War on Terror, tying up the govt and anyone cooperating with it in endless lawsuits.) We know exactly what they're up to.

But at least, this week, common justice prevailed
What a country.


You resort to name-calling. Pourquoi?

So as to educate you a little:

a) I am no cult follower of Bush. I voted against him and for McCain in the 2000 Republican primary. I voted for him in the two general elections because he was by far the best candidate as compared with Gore or John ( "just a gigolo" Kerry

b) I've been severely critical of Bush's performance over the past three years. Not so much here, where everyone thinks he's worse than a hundred billion Hitlers ( what would even be the point ) but on policital sites like A Tangled Web

c) There was one spectacular terrorist attack in the US during the Clinton administration ( WTC 1993 ) --as well as a number of terrorist attacks against the US outside of its borders ( Khobar Towers, the two Africa embassies, USS Cole ). That's five attacks outside of wartime, sweetie. Sounds like a "regular feature" to me.

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