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US Senate Votes Immunity For Telecoms 623

Posted by kdawson
from the not-even-a-wrist-slap dept.
Ktistec Machine writes to let us know that the telecom companies are one step closer to getting off the hook for their illegal collusion with the US government. Today the US Senate passed, by a filibuster-proof majority of 67 to 31, a revised FISA bill that grants retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that helped the government illegally tap American network traffic. If passed by both houses and signed by the President, this would effectively put an end to the many lawsuits against these companies (about 40 have been filed). The House version of the bill does not presently contain an immunity provision. President Bush has said he will veto any such bill that reaches his desk without the grant of immunity. We've discussed the progress of the immunity provision repeatedly.
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US Senate Votes Immunity For Telecoms

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  • Stunned (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cmefford (810011) <cpm@@@well...com> on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:32PM (#22396596)
    Well, that about wraps it up for (insert whatever right you thought you had).
  • by notque (636838) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:35PM (#22396640) Homepage Journal
    Is there any chance the House will stop this? Anyone want to march to the Capitol?!
  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:35PM (#22396644)
    Welcome to the Police State.
  • by bconway (63464) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:36PM (#22396668) Homepage
    I helped vote in this Democratic congress under the belief they would change things, and the best they could do was come up with 31 votes? Business as usual, I guess.
  • by Captain Splendid (673276) * <capsplendid@g m a i l . com> on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:37PM (#22396696) Homepage Journal
    Didn't the US just fight a big fucking war with the English a couple hundred years ago along the same lines?

    I'm serious. I know all of you are paying taxes, and shit like this sure as hell means the common guys isn't represented. Time for a few tea parties, methinks.
  • Glimmer of hope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by techpawn (969834) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:40PM (#22396752) Journal
    The provision was not in the house passed bill. So, it has to go to committee for compromise. If we're lucky this can be killed there, and the final bill will be vetoed. They're on the radar of everyone and know what they do shines on their candidate now more than ever. So, who knows they may do what their constituents want.

    But, my pockets aren't as deep as brother bells... So, I'm not betting on it
  • by 91degrees (207121) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:40PM (#22396754) Journal
    Sen Bond said "permitting lawsuits against the companies would ... discourage the private sector from cooperating with the government in the future."

    Yes it would do that. On the flip side, it would encourage them to obey the law. Personally I think that cooperating with the government when the government is breaking the law is something that should, in general, be discouraged*

    *Note: For cultures who miss the point, this is called "understatment"
  • info request (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:43PM (#22396808) Homepage Journal
    Why are retroactive laws even possible in the US system? I'm really wondering about that. Where I come from, the laws at the time of your action count, both for and against you.

    What's next? Retro-actively making something illegal and then putting you in jail for it?
  • by Shakrai (717556) * on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:43PM (#22396810) Journal

    Is there any chance the House will stop this?

    Pffft, the Senate failed us and you think the House won't? The House has become a rubber stamp for whatever the party leadership wants in the last few years -- under both the Democrats and the Republicans. So no, unless Nancy Pelosi herself is personally opposed to this I would assume that it will pass easily.

    Fucking Republicans impeached Clinton even though they knew full well they couldn't convict him -- and yet the Democrats don't even have the backbone to stand up to a veto threat by the White House before they knuckle over. Isn't there some middle ground between being the White House bitch and impeachment?

  • by RobBebop (947356) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:44PM (#22396826) Homepage Journal

    Is there anything to prevent lawsuits against the government officials who authorized illegal wiretapping in the first place? It doesn't even make sense to hold the telecoms responsible for following orders from Uncle Sam. What does make sense is to hold Uncle Sam accountable for his actions to order the illegal taps (instead of following judicial procedure and getting authority/permission).

    Bush even talked about this in the State of the Union last month. He said, "We have to extend the Bill that let's us track terrorists on February 1." As far as I know, that day came and went. But let's get a list of Congressmen who voted for the original illegal wiretapping bill that caused this whole mess. Target those "ENEMIES OF FREEDOM", and make sure people know who they are to prevent them from keeping their seats in Congress during the next election.

    (you know, I never understood why Congress doesn't have terms limits. Poor Ted Kennedy has been there so long that he slept through most of the last State of the Union address).

  • by evil agent (918566) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:46PM (#22396864)

    Clinton: Did not vote

    Hillary has been going on and on about the number of times Obama did not vote when he was in the Illinois Senate. Hopefully he'll use this as ammunition.

  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:48PM (#22396906)
    Protest marches don't work when the media is controlled.

    Last year, there was one big-ass march [unitedforpeace.org] in D.C. protesting the war.

    What media deigned to even report on it put the attendance at 10% of the true number.

    March all you like...it doesn't matter. We lost this country when we lost the independence of the media.
  • Re:info request (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Shados (741919) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:50PM (#22396956)
    Thats the question I have too. If you can make anything retroactive, then you have absolutely zero protection against any kind of government corruption.... they can always screw you over after the fact... that doesn't make any sense.

    Can someone explain to me if this is a weird special case, or if its normal??
  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:50PM (#22396980) Journal

    To strike it, Obama voted for it, Clinton did not vote, McCain against it.
    That's a little confusing, since the meaning of "it" changes during your sentence. Obama voted to strike the immunity measure, McCain voted to keep the immunity measure, and Clinton was too busy kissing babies to vote.
  • by Shakrai (717556) * on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:53PM (#22397022) Journal

    We lost this country when we lost the independence of the media.

    Don't tell me that you are naive enough to think that the media was ever independent to begin with. Ever hear about yellow journalism [wikipedia.org]? Ever read about the origins of the Spanish-American war?

    The media has never been independent. That shouldn't stop people from fighting for change.

  • Re:Stunned (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jo42 (227475) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:55PM (#22397062) Homepage
    I keep telling you guys to practice your "Heil Bush!". Yet I keep getting mocked and voted/modded down. One of these days I'll be going "I told you so!".
  • Re:Pardon me? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shakrai (717556) * on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:56PM (#22397072) Journal

    just issuing his own Presidential Pardon for the telecoms that he can't pardon them for ongoing and future violations

    Unless I'm completely mistaken, the President has zero authority to issue a "pardon" for a civil action. The teleco's aren't being charged with criminal violations of the law (that would require the Government to actually enforce the laws...), they are being sued by individuals and groups seeking discovery to find out what actually happened and possible monetary reparations.

  • by ArcherB (796902) * on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:59PM (#22397150) Journal

    Welcome to the Police State.
    I know! I had to pass through four armed checkpoints on my way to work today. Two of them searched my trunk... and I don't mean the hatch-back of my car, if you catch my drift. Don't even get me started about the "secret police" that searched my house this morning at 3:00am looking for Obama literature. Thank God I got rid of that! Oh, and I expect I'll get to meet you in the reeducation camp later this week. We all know that you are not allowed to post stuff like that in a police state. /sarc off

    You really shouldn't make "police state" claims like that. If you think this is a police state, you obviously have no idea what a true police state is. Displaying such an obscene level of ignorance is probably not in your best interest.

    I've seen police states. I've had to pass through checkpoints and answer questions about where I was going, why I was going there and when I plan on being back. The US is not a police state.
  • Re:info request (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:00PM (#22397172) Homepage

    What's next? Retro-actively making something illegal and then putting you in jail for it?

    I expect to see that within the next 5-10 years, max.

    The US really has started slipping into a hole, and won't be digging out of it any time soon.

    Cheers
  • by corsec67 (627446) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:02PM (#22397198) Homepage Journal
    How can any Ex post facto law [wikipedia.org] be passed at all when Article 1, Section 9 [wikisource.org] of the Constitution says "No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."?

    There aren't any clauses in there that could be interpreted as "unless it legalizes an act", so ANY law that changes the legal ramifications of an act that occurred before that law was passed is unconstitutional.

    Of course, the Constitution is an optional, irrelevant document, so none of it really matters. Just look at (Amendments 1,2,9):
    • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
    • A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
    • The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:05PM (#22397244) Journal

    It's not about creating a billion private utopias, it's about creating a country where the majority gets to live the lives the majority wants.
    Poppycock.

    The tyranny of the majority, despite its popularity, is still a tyranny.

    It precisely is about creating the potential for a billion private utopias. Whether an individual ever gets his utopia is up to him... but it's a major misunderstanding of the principles of the US Founding Fathers to believe that majority rule was intended. Much of what is present in the US Constitution is precisely to prevent majority rule.
  • by ArcherB (796902) * on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:06PM (#22397256) Journal

    So let me get this straight, you think warrantless wiretapping is a good thing?
    I think that punishing the telco's for it is a BAD thing. It's not the jobs of the Telco's to protect your rights. That falls to the government. If the government fails, you call on your first amendment rights. If that fails, you move down to the second amendment. If you don't have the stones to do that, then you don't deserve any of your rights at all.

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:07PM (#22397262)

    It doesn't get much clearer than that!
    What makes you think one part of the Constitution would stop them when they're voting to ignore another part?
  • Incorrect (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Raul654 (453029) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:08PM (#22397276) Homepage
    This point has already been mentioned on Slashdot before. As I said then [slashdot.org], it is incorrect. The prohibition on ex-post facto laws means something cannot be retroactively made illegal; it can, however, be made retroactively legal.

  • Re:info request (Score:3, Insightful)

    by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:08PM (#22397282) Homepage
    Yes. Ron Paul. As far as I can tell, he's not in anyone's pocket. He may come across as a crack-pot, but the reality is that he's as sincere about his convictions as can be imagined. Even if he's elected (and while it would be wonderful, I doubt he will be) I doubt he would be able to make any effective changes... in fact, the best we could hope for is that he blocks as many corrupt, corporate-sponsored bills as possible... the best we could hope for would be for him to prevent too much further damage. What we need is a bunch more "Ron Pauls" in the house and senate and to clear house in the judiciary.
  • No, you should elect Ron Paul.
  • by yincrash (854885) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:11PM (#22397348)
    The vote you linked to is actually a vote to invoke cloture, meaning that the bill can no longer be filibustered.
  • by TripMaster Monkey (862126) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:15PM (#22397398)
    You really shouldn't make "police state" claims like that. If you think this is a police state, you obviously have no idea what a true police state is. Displaying such an obscene level of ignorance is probably not in your best interest.

    You really need to stop trying to be snarky long enough to open your eyes. Here's some reading for you:

    Naomi Wolf: Fascist America, in 10 easy steps [guardian.co.uk]
    Milton Mayer: An excerpt from "They Thought They Were Free" [uchicago.edu]

    I've seen police states. I've had to pass through checkpoints and answer questions about where I was going, why I was going there and when I plan on being back. The US is not a police state.

    Really? Crossed the border lately? Flown lately?
  • by DreamingReal (216288) <dreamingreal&yahoo,com> on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:18PM (#22397452) Homepage
    Perhaps everyone should start voting first before we start assuming the government is broken?

    Voting is irrelevant. Rule of Law is not upheld by voting, it is upheld by bringing criminals to justice. When criminals control the dispensing of justice you have a broken system. Our forefathers rightly divided the government to institute checks and balances but what happens when all three refuse to maintain balance? You have the "nuclear option", clearly defined in our Declaration of Indepence; the governed must throw off their leaders.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:18PM (#22397458)

    We lost this country when we lost the independence of the media.
    No, we lost this country when we stopped being willing to die to prevent things like this happening. When we stopped being willing to die to not only defend our right for the future of our children, but even for the future of our fellow countrymen's children.

    Are you willing to march, armed, on D.C. and fight, and die, to restore the idea that no man or company is above the law, and that things like retroactive immunity for the rich few are an abomination?

    No? You're not willing?

    Neither am I.

    They know it. That's why we lose.
  • Re:Stunned (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mea37 (1201159) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:19PM (#22397478)
    Punishing the telecom companies for cooperating with the government wouldn't actually protect anyone's rights anyway. The grant of immunity is a corollary problem; the root problem is that the government would engage in a warrantless wiretap program to begin with, and until that is addressed we will continue to be short-changed on our rights as citizens.

    Simply withholding immunity really just moves the problem around a bit. Now the shareholders of (for example) AT&T bear the cost of decisions they didn't make, approve, or know about. Perhaps they could turn around and file a shareholder suit (on the grounds that AT&T worked against shareholder interests by cooperating with and being held liable for the wiretap program), though I'm told those types of suits aren't very common these days.

    While we do hold that "just following orders" isn't a suitable defense for war crimes, I wonder if the balance between the moral/ethical breach of compliance vs. pressure applied by the government is the same in this case. (Do we actually know how much pressure or threat, if any, was used to get the telecoms to cooperate?) I'd see some merit to the argument that liability should be pushed back onto the government itself.

    At any rate, I find it surprising that we would expect more backbone out of corporations dealing with the American government than we expect out of them when dealing with, say, the Chinese government. If we tolerate Google "playing by China's rules" when all they stand to lose is their entry into the Chinese market, then why would we expect better of AT&T when they would be running afoul of their home country's government?

    What I'd like to see -- and you'll have to forgive me for any imprecision in the details here, as IANAL -- is a John Doe suit filed against the individual(s) within (for example) AT&T who actually made and authorized the decisions to compromise customers' privacy. Naturally those individuals would try to hide behind the shield of corporate liability; I would hope (though I can't remember if it's the case) that taking actions outside of -- and even contrary to -- the corporation's interests would make a case for PCV.
  • by Captain Splendid (673276) * <capsplendid@g m a i l . com> on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:20PM (#22397492) Homepage Journal
    You know, a police state is not a binary thing. Your post is correct in not conflating the US with, say, Iran, but you could at least admit that the direction the US is heading towards isn't exactly anti-police state either.

    Really, are you that much of a pedant that you'll keep arguing over minutiae up until the last possible moment? You're not helping anyone but yourself.
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:20PM (#22397506) Homepage Journal
    Only 26 US Senators stood up and voted to put a hold on this legislation, including both of Washington State's US Senators and Senator Barack Obama.

    Senator Clinton was ... not present.

    Well, guess that answers who's tech-friendly.
  • by UdoKeir (239957) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:21PM (#22397526)
    The government and corporations should not be "friends", and should not be in the habit of "helping" one another out.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:22PM (#22397532)
    Correct. Telco's do not need to protect my rights. They only need to obey that law, which they didn't do and like everyone else, they should face the consequences of there actions.
  • Re:Stunned (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:24PM (#22397582)
    You Sir are a corporate shill.

    At a time where corporate law suits against single citizen's is at an all time high, you suggest that we (the people) should have no recorse against illegal activities of corporations? Just becuase 'someone else' asked them to do it.

    Absolutely not sir.

    Both the government that asked them to commit something illegal and the people that actually commited the illegal act (this is proven they knew it to be illegal, as some companies REFUSED on the grounds of it being illegal).

    Its called a conspiracy sir.

    All parties are at fault.

    (sorry about spelling at work using IE yuck).

  • Re:Stunned (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:25PM (#22397602)
    Well democracy erosion is being led by America. The greatest thing to happen to the greedy in the USA was 9/11. Lump everything together, try to make ya average american citizen paranoid, take away their freedoms to speak, and in the words fo Elvis 'Thank you very much'

    I'm not saying that over the pond we are any better off. We have our fair share of lamed assed Politicians who's modus operandi if offered as evidence in a court of law would be considered fraud.

    It all boils down to one great truth really...'we the powerfull/rich like money, we want more, we dont care how we get, we are damm sure its gonna be at your expense, but hey learn your level within the food chain'.

    Now the Trend Micro attack on CLAMAV being included in another boarder gateway product, looks like it may be having a negative impact on potential future sales...god bless the enlightend.

    There is one big hurdle to the use of 'voting with your credit card'..... apathy, we've got spades of it over here, god im guilty of it myself, but until people in large numbers get together and boycott companies/corporations aint nothing gonna change.

  • by SterlingSylver (1122973) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:26PM (#22397608)
    Congratulations! Your line of reason has just declared every country on the planet that bothers to maintain its border a police state! Welcome to this new and terrifying millenium!
  • by WilliamSChips (793741) <full,infinity&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:31PM (#22397700) Journal
    Actually, if you look at the history of the United States from George Washington to now, you'll notice that the media is much more free now than it ever was. It's just that the illusions have been shattered.
  • by WilliamSChips (793741) <full,infinity&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:34PM (#22397756) Journal
    Walk from the US to Canada. Walk from Canada to the US. The borders of the United States are for all intents and purposes a police state.
  • by Tanman (90298) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:42PM (#22397894)
    when I ask, "Do you think the constitution is an outdated, unimportant document now?"

    It amazes me all of his detractors that call him an extremist who is blindly supporting some outdated, irrelevant document -- people who then complain about this stuff being passed. Don't you realize that this is the kind of thing Ron Paul would stop?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:50PM (#22398062)
    Walk from the US to Canada. Walk from Canada to the US. The borders of the United States are for all intents and purposes a police state.

    There are 20 Million mexicans who would argue with you.
  • by OutSourcingIsTreason (734571) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:54PM (#22398132)
    This was not a vote on an amendment. This was a vote on cloture. Obama voted nay, same as did Dodd and Feingold.
  • by sizzzzlerz (714878) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:56PM (#22398166)
    Congratulations, bin Laden, you've won.
  • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @06:02PM (#22398270)
    "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote"

    Democracy is the ability of the minority to keep the majority in check.

  • by ArcherB (796902) * on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @06:05PM (#22398334) Journal

    I've seen police states. I've had to pass through checkpoints and answer questions about where I was going, why I was going there and when I plan on being back. The US is not a police state.
    Really? Crossed the border lately? Flown lately?
    You're kidding, right? I tried to enter the Super Bowl, but some Gestapo Asshole was at the gate, blocking my way, asking to see my papers!

    Strict border control does not make a police state. A state is deemed a police state by how it treats its law abiding CITIZENS, not foreign nationals who wish to enter the country. If border control and airport security is how you judge police states, can you show me a country that is NOT a police state? Is Canada a police state too? France? Japan?

  • by magus_melchior (262681) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @06:18PM (#22398574) Journal
    It's been said before, but it bears repeating: What makes you think that a Democrat is any less likely to wiretap without warrants (among other abuses) as the current administration, given that they'll do as much as possible to put a Dem in the White House?
  • Re:Stunned (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sponge Bath (413667) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @06:23PM (#22398650)

    While we do hold that "just following orders" isn't a suitable defense for war crimes

    AG Mukassey does not agree with that. Last night's interview on Lehrer News Hour had him state that no one can be investigated or charged for waterboarding because previous AG Gonzales said it was legal and that absolves anyone who followed that advice of any crime.

    I don't agree with that, but that is the stance of the country's highest law enforcement official.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @06:35PM (#22398822) Homepage
    Punishing the telecom companies for cooperating with the government wouldn't actually protect anyone's rights anyway. The grant of immunity is a corollary problem; the root problem is that the government would engage in a warrantless wiretap program to begin with, and until that is addressed we will continue to be short-changed on our rights as citizens.

    Yes and these lawsuits are in fact the point of the spear aimed at the root of the problem.

    Punishing the telcos and getting damages isn't the important part. It's something that should be done, but it is really just a means to an end. The ultimate point is to find out through discovery what exactly the government did. The aim is to get evidence out into the open, in the public record, of the government's malfeasance.

    Once the spear point has pierced the government's veil of secrecy, then we can drive it deeper into the government itself. With the information revealed in the suits, it may be possible to sue the government, get court rulings about the legality of the administration's practices, and ultimately set up the possibility of future prosecution. If it can create enough of a scandal to cost politicians and bureaucrats their careers, while not optimal, that can still serve as a check to keep the government in line for a while.

    This is also, ultimately, what the immunity provisions are about. It's nothing to do with protecting telcos from having to pay damages, that's just the means to an end. It's all about preventing anyone from discovering what the government really did -- they even admit it when talking about why the provision is necessary, though of course they couch it in "national security secrets" terms. Bush and team are trying to cover their own ass, and cowardly Congress is going along with it.

    By the way, you raise a good point about Google and China. Personally I don't forgive Google, but at the same time I recognize the realities of working with a government like China's, one such reality being that censoring the people is not illegal. At the same time our government is not China's, our government is supposed to respect human rights, and more importantly it is illegal for them not to just as it is illegal for AT&T. And also because our government is not China's, we the people should be able to discover when our government or corporations break the law and demand redress. Which, coming full circle, is exactly what these lawsuits are about.
  • Re:Stunned (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gravatron (716477) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @06:39PM (#22398868)
    Sorry, but the telecom's had a legal and ethical duty to demand a warrent, and if one could not be presented, to decline to cooperate. Anyone who didn't knew they were breaking the law, and should have to face the results. They deserved to lose millions, as money seems to be the only thing corperations understand, and losing a ton of it would have caused the shareholders to demand future adheriance to the law.

    Instead, one of the foundations of our nation is eroded, that is the citizen's protection from search without warrents, and a major crime will go unpunished. This tells the citizens that we are at the mercy of the executive branch, who has time and time again showed that they are above the law.
  • Re:Stunned (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xaositecte (897197) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @06:57PM (#22399150) Journal
    Here's what it boils down to:

    1. Corporate leaders are all about the bottom line. I have no beef with this whatsoever, as it tends to create more efficient organizations that end up benefitting the consumer. Of course there are exceptions to that, monopolies, perversions of the system, but let us for the moment assume that the telcos are operating a normal entities in the capitalist system.

    2. Corporate leaders are going to take whatever stand they believe will benefit their shareholders. Shareholders are routinely rewarded and\or punished for the decisions of corporate leaders which they have virtually no influence on. This decision is no different.

    3. Holding telcos legally responsible for breaking laws, especially in circumstances where not breaking the law was an acceptable response (as evidenced by the fact that some telcos did do just that) will encourage all telcos to respect wiretap laws in the future.

    4. Conversely, not holding telcos responsible for breaking laws will encourage more of them to break laws in the future, since it has been proven there is little or no risk, and a goodly amount of incentives for playing ball with the government.

    5. The logical conclusion of allowing telcos to get away with breaking the law, as long as the government is the entity asking them to break it, is that eventually all telcos will either participate willingly in illegal wiretapping, or be unable to compete with their less scrupulous competitors, and be driven out of business.

    Therefore:

    We should corporations responsible for breaking laws, or be prepared to accept an America where illegal wiretapping is widespread, and goes unpunished. Even if you buy the "it's necessary to fight terrorism" bullshit they're feeding you right now, this is the sort of power that's never going to go away once it's institutionalised.
  • by NewAndFresh (1238204) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @06:57PM (#22399160)

    Will the individual(s) who authorized these activities suffer if judgements are leveled against the company? No. It's not coming out of their paycheck.
    How do you know this? Why wouldn't heads role? Especially if this ends up costing the shareholders millions or even billions. It would seem only natural that the individuals who made the important calls on this would get fired.
  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @07:14PM (#22399370) Homepage
    So sue the government. Filing a lawsuit with the aim of outing information about a third party -- or indeed with any aim other than solely to impose just sanctions agains the defense -- is an abuse of the court system.

    No it isn't an abuse. The lawsuits are just, because the telcos broke the law, and they should be punished for that.

    I thought your complaint was that this wasn't addressing the true problem of the government breaking the law. I'm explaining how the lawsuits also address that. And just so you know, it is extremely common and not considered an abuse at all for an otherwise just and proper suit to have other strategic purposes, whether that be establishing a precedent, creating situations ripe for appeal and perhaps judicial review, to yes in fact exposing other crimes which leads to other lawsuits.

    The problem with suing the government is that until we actually know for certain what they did any lawsuit isn't even going to get off the ground, its doubtful anyone would even have standing to do so until we know more. If you really think the government should be sued, the telco lawsuits are the best first step in doing so.
  • by Xaositecte (897197) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @07:17PM (#22399410) Journal
    Yes, financial penalties for telcos who participated in illegal wiretapping programs will affect their willingness to participate in such programs in the future.

    If no penalties are ascribed, telcos will be more likely to participate.

    If minor penalties are ascribed, it will factor into their risk\benefit calculations. Corporate leaders will ask, "Will I make more money off the pork I get from playing ball than I lose from judgements against me?" - and act accordingly.

    If harsh penalties are ascribed, the same risk\benefit calculations will occur, but corporate leaders will be much less likely to approve cooperation with the government as far as illegal wiretapping is concerned.
  • Re:Stunned (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NewAndFresh (1238204) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @07:22PM (#22399490)

    What makes you think the shareholders had (or in future cases would have) any influence whatsoever over a situation like this?
    They probably had nothing to do with it. But what shareholders in their right minds wouldn't ban such behavior in the future? Are you really thinking this one out?
  • by pugugly (152978) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @07:29PM (#22399606)
    Why would you want a middle ground. Impeach the SOB.

    Pug
  • Re:Stunned (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jellie (949898) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @07:46PM (#22399826)

    Now the shareholders of (for example) AT&T bear the cost of decisions they didn't make, approve, or know about.

    ...is a John Doe suit filed against the individual(s) within (for example) AT&T who actually made and authorized the decisions to compromise customers' privacy.
    I would love to see the individuals who made the decision get punished for what they did! But tell me: do you think a low-level manager actually gave the "OK" to allow the NSA to build a secret room at AT&T? Similarly, do you think the receptionists at Enron participated in hiding its losses? Of course not. These things typically go all the way to the top of the ladder. I know that most of the cases are civil lawsuits, but these companies did violate agreements with its customers, as well as some privacy laws.

    Furthermore, keep in mind that a company and its shareholders are liable for the actions of its employees, provided its employees are acting on its behalf. My employer earns money from my work; shouldn't they lose money if I break the law? Think of investments, like stocks. If the company beats expectations, the stock goes up and you earn money (usually). If the company performs poorly, we all lose. Did I have any say in their decision to hire employee X who then cost $7 billion in losses? No. But as a shareholder, I'll still lose money.
  • Re:Stunned (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ucklak (755284) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @08:21PM (#22400192)
    It's basically what I said. A single point of failure. 1 DNS server and 1 web server.

    I don't trust anyone except myself. If there is a threat coming my way, I think my state would have a better idea about how to defend itself rather than the feds.
    The problem is that there are some weak governors (mine included) that would await federal approval for something they don't need approval for.
  • Re:Stunned (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KevinKnSC (744603) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @08:58PM (#22400600)
    That's just it, though. The directive refers to a number of classified or non-publicly available annexes that Congress, let alone the average citizen, haven't been able to see. For all we know, the directive gives control of the country to the CEO of Halliburton or King Abdullah. Probably it's nothing that outlandish, but the whole point is that we don't know.

    To put it in familiar terms, this is an act of closed source government, where the directive in question may have catastrophic vulnerabilities that we can't protect ourselves from because we can't see the source of these annexes.

  • by Felix Da Rat (93827) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @10:00PM (#22401106)
    You know, I didn't think I could answer your questions, and I know I don't have all the details, but I was surprised at how much I have gleaned from this ongoing frakas...

    1: AT&T is the one that gets all the Press, Qwest I think is out of it, with a boned CEO, but I'm sketchy on who all the players are.
    2: Again, sketchy on this, but I believe it goes along the lines of: copying the communications of innocent, law abiding American citizens too government agencies for their perusal/review, with no clearly defined limits on retention or use (see 4th amendment in the bill of rights).
    3: I know the EFF is big on this, pretty sure the ACLU is also participating. Probably others.
    4: To hold those who have broken the law accountable via fiscal penalty? Yeah, I think that sounds about right.

    Oddly enough, the only questions you asked that matter are 2 and 4. Who the players are is moot really.

    Speaking as a well-meaning (or mean spirited, can never remember) libritarian, I can tell you that no one who has any interest in the goings on of government is 'ignorant of the real dangers in the world'. We all accept danger ever day in real life, from driving to work, to soap in the shower, to fat in our diets. All of those have killed a lot more of us than any enemy of the US ever has, or will. Especially if the government does not serve the will of the people, because at that point, there really is no US. There will just be a body of people living on the same land mass in a state of fear; and those real threats will have won.

    Remember, terrorism only works if your fear keeps you from living life. So get out of your bubble, use your spine, and accept the risk and knowledge that bad things will happen.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @10:52PM (#22401492)
    Of course, it was in Soviet Russia that one was not allowed to travel without travel papers, and that had secret prisons, sanctioned torture, and had secret police and secret laws, and no habeas corpus.

    Modern America, by contrast, only requires travel papers for travelling by automobile, ferry, train, or plane, or when crossing any checkpoints, has secret prisons (but gets embarrassed when they're discovered, and has to move them), sanctions using torture as long as weasel words are used in documents, has only semi-secret police, and has -- as far as we know - only a few secret laws so far (mostly involving DHS and TSA). Also, the US has habeas corpus, unless the someone on the police/army end of the operatoin is willing to say "terrorist", in which case it doesn't have habeas corpus any longer.

    The difference is... I guess an exercise for the reader.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @10:53PM (#22401498)
    Imagine I asked you if your life in the USA was perfect and you say no. I retort that "well you have it better than the chinese, or jews in the holocaust, so buck up." Would that magically make everything wrong with life in the states go away? This kindof "be thankful for what you have left" response is what will bring all the nations down to the lowest common denominator.
  • Re:Stunned (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dr. Hellno (1159307) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @01:06AM (#22402304)

    Simply withholding immunity really just moves the problem around a bit. Now the shareholders of (for example) AT&T bear the cost of decisions they didn't make, approve, or know about.


    Responsibility in a corporate situation is kind of a difficult subject, and you certainly have a point; these shareholders are not really at fault, at least not in any tangible way.

    Still, if you're going to to say that shareholders shouldn't bear the cost of decisions they didn't make, doesn't it follow that they shouldn't reap the benefits of decisions they didn't make either? That is to say, why should they profit when the company makes good decisions if they don't lose money when the company makes bad ones?
  • by evought (709897) <evought@@@pobox...com> on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @01:28AM (#22402450) Homepage Journal

    That's one reason why I personally don't respect parts of the constitution. If there's a majority in the future, then, well, there is a majority. If you do anything else, you will piss a majority of people off. It seems kinda funny because the constitution was designed with the people (read: the majority of people at the time) in mind. But their influence couldn't stay in their own times when it was relevant, it had to spread to times where their wants become increasingly irrelevant. There are new majorities now with new needs and wants, and they can speak for themselves if they want. The constitution should really just stick to making sure they can speak for themselves, and that those in power listen.
    To some extent, the system was designed purposely to slow down the process of change, to balance toward conservative decision making (dictionary definition of "conservative"). This is, in general, a very good thing. You don't want to change your government according to the latest fad, you want slow change where you can get an idea of how things work as you go forward. A conservative government structure also tries to prevent thrashing (shifting majorities just changing the same things back and forth as Congress changes hands) and to try to encourage more rational decision making in times of crisis.

    You should never make any long term decisions in a crisis. People are horrible at it and tend to be highly irrational at such times. Look how badly we have done after 9/11. How much worse would we have done with a more fluid government system? That is why we have checks and balances (among other reasons), why Supreme Court appointments are for life, and many other things. At the same time, the system does allow slow change, through new laws, amendments, new appointments to the judiciary over time, and so forth. Our system has changes a good bit since the Founders' day (some to the good, at this precise moment, much to the bad). Our government and Constitution is not perfect, certainly, but the Founder's did a pretty good job, if you think about it, of anticipating a lot of potential problems, quite a few of which warnings we have ignored. Sure, it can use touching up in places (I can think of several off hand), but if you think about the number of popular revolutions which ended in total chaos and bloodbaths (e.g. France, Russia, China), we didn't do badly at all.
  • Re:Stunned (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gr8scot (1172435) on Wednesday February 13, 2008 @10:10AM (#22405334) Journal

    At any rate, I find it surprising that we would expect more backbone out of corporations dealing with the American government than we expect out of them when dealing with, say, the Chinese government. If we tolerate Google "playing by China's rules" when all they stand to lose is their entry into the Chinese market, then why would we expect better of AT&T when they would be running afoul of their home country's government?
    It is not rational to expect private entities to take a harder line with China than that taken by the government of the nation in which they're headquartered. The United States accepts preposterously imbalanced tariffs with China, and as far as I know so far, is not planning to boycott the upcoming Olympics, despite the UK gag order. Our government is not acting in a principled manners in its dealings with China in our name, and has not done so, for some time. The chorus that Google, a privately-owned entity, should be more principled in its dealings with China than the United States government is, amounts to holding it to higher standards as a "corporate citizen," a fallacious concept in the first place, than the real citizens are holding yourselves and your representatives. It is not Google's fault, and not its owners' personal responsibility, that access to the cheapest labor on Earth has been a higher political priority of our "representatives" than the interests of the general populace; that has been going on since before "Google" was so much as a Lego brick [stanford.edu].

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