Telecom Immunity Bill Delayed For Now

People's day in court still in jeopardy

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Voting on a bill to give telecommunications companies retroactive immunity for participating in the government’s warrantless electronic surveillance program was originally scheduled for today. The Democrats, who are suddenly discovering they may have a set of cojones after all, have successfully delayed renewal of the speciously titled "Protect America Act," at least until next week.

Library of Congress Library of Congress

And at least Republicans, who we’ve known to have a veritable cornucopia of cojones – large, brass, clanging ones – are predictably pitching fits and playing that good old reliable and, like their coveted surveillance, unwarranted fear card.

In the face of all that brass, it’s not clear yet, just how long the Democrats’ newfound courage will hold out—nobody likes to be against "protecting" America or viewed as soft on security in the most important election year for the Democratic party since Bubba came around and charmed the pants, literally, off everybody.

These golden power-seizing opportunities only come around once every so often, the last great icon being Bubba, and the last one before that being, well, Kennedy. Disclaimer: I’m neither Democrat nor Republican nor completely Libertarian, though that’s closest. I happen to be more Democrat than Republican this election season though, given the choices and recent histories.

I’m against retroactive immunity for a number of reasons, which I will get into in a bit. But first I want to say that my opinion on the matter, or the opinion of the opposition, should be moot at this juncture. What really matters right now is that the American people get their day in court, not who’s wrong or right on surveillance. The government does not have the right nor the authority to take away the people’s entitlement of bringing companies or the government itself before the courts to decide whether the accused is actually guilty.

The same goes for any other matter. If a man is charged with a crime, the government cannot deny either the man’s right to defend himself, nor the public’s right to investigate, nor the court’s authority to decide whether or not there was any wrongdoing. Retroactive immunity would deny the people their day in court, and that should not be allowed to happen. If it’s true that the telecoms and government were innocent of wrongdoing, let them present that case in court, and let it be decided there.

Otherwise, there is no system of checks and balances, no system of justice or accountability. The administration will be granted unprecedented authority to whatever it wants without having to answer to anybody or tell anybody what it is doing, civil liberties and the Constitution be damned. That’s pretty un-American in my book, borderline treasonous, and right out of the totalitarian playbooks our system of government was set up against.

But Bush, his administration, and many Republicans in Congress would deny any type of accountability, even to the extent that the people are denied what’s fair to them, and there is a looming fear that the Democrats in this sensitive election season, will do a bit of grandstanding before ultimately backing down and giving into the regime.

That could happen next week, once Congress has more time to address it—or now that there’s a good six weeks before the next major primary.

That the people should be given their day in court is my main point, and I’ve made it. I’ll now turn to my argument against immunity so that any reader who won’t be able to stand it anymore can go ahead and click out.

Even if I plan to keep rather brief.

The President doesn’t think the American people deserve to ask questions in court, but instead thinks they should thank the telecom industry for doing their patriotic duty* and just be on their way, you know, putting that $300 back into the economy by engaging in the same fiscal irresponsibility that got us into the economic crisis we’re in already, which somehow warrants a pittance of a refund, in some kind of weird circular logic.

Basically, after seven straight years of eroding public trust (what’s his approval rating again?) by at best being wrong and at worst lying (which one is up to you), the administration is asking for more trust, and asking for us also to trust companies who’ve demonstrated the same or less justification for trust than the government has.

These very institutions we’re being asked to trust have not earned that trust. The FBI just admitted that it improperly accessed Americans’ telephone records, credit reports and Internet traffic in 2006. This was just on the heels of the administration’s argument that they were only using warrantless wiretapping to intercept foreign communications and not information on Americans.

So: FBI not worthy of our trust.

Who gave them the information? Well, Verizon admitted a while back that it turned over customer (read: American citizen) information to the government voluntarily, without any fight whatsoever. AT&T has a special room set up just for the NSA to intercept traffic. This all happened despite their initial right to refuse such requests, and the government’s obligation to seek proper court orders under the law. And, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell wants it so that all Internet traffic going across networks is monitored, which would include American citizens, Fourth Amendment violation or not, even if no FISA request has been turned down in 30 years.

So: Verizon, AT&T, National Intelligence agencies not worthy of our trust.

Some supporters have argued that allowing the Protect America Act to sunset means the intelligence communities cannot currently collect data. That’s patently untrue. They are able to collect data for another six months, so there’s no urgency now.

So: You conclude what that means for the trustworthiness of supporters of immunity for yourself.

And really? The Bush Administration and blind Congressional followers just expect us to give the whole lot of them a free pass to do whatever they want without any type of supervision or system of accountability, legal or not? How un-American is that? Worse, I fear the Democrats won’t muster up enough courage to stand up to it, and that doubtful Republicans won’t risk crossing party lines, especially during an election year, when fear is the most tried-and-true path to power.

*"Patriotic duty" is a nice, loaded phrase that is up for interpretation, and more commonly used to manipulate people by a gambit of emotions like guilt, shame, obligation, and pride. It could easily be argued that "patriotic duty" in America is standing up to abuses of power. If so, the telecommunications companies clearly shirked that duty.  

Telecom Immunity Bill Delayed For Now
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  • http://www.thinkhope.com/profile.php?mode=viewprofile&u=2 VrSpock

    So a bill is out on the table called "Protect America" whose sole purpose is to protect major telecom’s from lawsuits?  I think whoever comes up with these deceitful names for proposed bills should be sued!

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