EFF Reminds AT&T What It Said The First Time
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sent a reminder to AT&T (and the rest of us) that at one time the company resisted government pressure to spy on US citizens, and even publicized it.
The EFF is currently in the throes of a lawsuit against the telecommunications giant over its cooperation with the National Security Agency. AT&T allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on telephone calls without the proper warrants – a practice furthered by recent (and disappointing) legislation backed by a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, unopposed even by the Speaker.
Nancy Pelosi talked tough during election season, but it appears that’s all it was – just talk.
Not only is the EFF trying to remind the government, citizens, and AT&T that the Constitution forbids such practices, they’re also throwing the fact that AT&T, eighty years ago, actually took the side of the citizens.
In 1928, when the telephone was proliferating throughout the US, AT&T likened government surveillance of phone lines to the writs of assistance issued by King George II and III authorizing searches of anyone, anywhere, whether or not they were suspected of a crime.
If you remember your American history, this was one of the "abuses and usurpations" that made it necessary for the British colonies in America "to dissolve the political which" had connected them. In short, it was a cause for revolution.
So when the question of wiretapping came to the Supreme Court’s attention in 1928, AT&T filed an amicus brief against the United States.
Excerpted from that, as the EFF’s Derek Slater shows, is the following:
"The telephone companies deplore the use of their facilities in furtherance of any criminal or wrongful enterprise. But it was not solicitude for law breakers that caused the people of the United States to ordain the Fourth and Fifth Amendments as part of the Constitution…. [I]t is better that a few criminals escape than that the privacies of life of all the people be exposed to the agents of the government, who will act at their own discretion, the honest and the dishonest, unauthorized and unrestrained by courts.
"The telephone has become part and parcel of the social and business intercourse of the people of the United States, and this telephone system offers a means of espionage to which general warrants and writs of assistance were the puniest instruments of tyranny and oppression."
It begs the question: What has happened to Ma Bell over the last century that it would repeatedly take sides against the wishes and rights of the American public? And what happened to the ideals of government we set up so long ago?
My guess: Money happened. Lots of it.
AT&T isn’t the only one in need of a history lesson; Congress is, too, and it’s up to each and every one of us to set our representatives straight. By passing horrible legislation last week permitting the warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international communications, Congress failed to do its job and check the Executive’s abuse of power. Now we must do our democratic duty and help restore our Constitutional rights.
And I conclude with a quote from the man that wrote the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson:
"God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion… We have had thirteen States independent for eleven years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half, for each State. What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion?"
Looks like we’ve waited far too long.