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US Senate Votes Immunity For Telecoms 623

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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  • Just to be clear... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Paladin144 ( 676391 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:39PM (#22396722) Homepage
    Votes in favor of the Rule of Law: 31

    Votes in favor of Oligarchical Corporatism: 67

    It's ironic that democracy can be voted away so quickly and easily.

  • by KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:39PM (#22396736) Homepage Journal
    Well, I guess I have to support Obama. Clinton doesn't have the stones, and McCain's actively antithetical to a free society.
  • by KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:46PM (#22396862) Homepage Journal
    If I read correctly, Obama voted for the amendment that would let people hold the telcos accountable. Clinton did not vote, and McCain voted to let the telcos get away scot-free.

    So no, I do not support wiretapping without a warrant.
  • Re:Semantics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by peas_n_carrots ( 1025360 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:46PM (#22396878)
    "illegal" in the vernacular means against the law. The wiretaps *were* illegal. If the bill passes, it may not be illegal in the future. That doesn't diminish the fact that it was and currently still is illegal.

    Perhaps the better question would be to ask yourself if you know what illegal means.
  • Pardon me? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HTH NE1 ( 675604 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:48PM (#22396914)
    Is the only reason why Bush cares so much that Congress grant this immunity instead of just issuing his own Presidential Pardon for the telecoms that he can't pardon them for ongoing and future violations?
  • What I'd like to see (Score:4, Interesting)

    by causality ( 777677 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:52PM (#22397010)
    Punish them once for helping the government spy on us.

    Punish them 2x that amount for seeking immunity and generally trying to excuse it. Don't just fine the company (but by all means, do that too). Seize the personal assets of every executive who supported this and put them up for auction; disperse the proceeds to a variety of charities.

    Impeach and imprison for life, on the basis of treason, every politician who supported what they knew to be an unconstitutional law. Isn't it funny how someone who assists our enemies is prosecuted for treason, but the far worse threat of elected officials who knowingly erode civil liberties is generally not even recognized to be a crime? Remember that politicians are generally also lawyers; they know very well what the 4th Amendment says.

    I'd like to see all of the above happen in a court of law. Yes, I can keep dreaming. None of this will ever happen. I know that. But I'd like my country back, please.

    Maybe when we're all marching the goose step we will have some insight and will collectively decide "hmm, maybe a free country IS worth a miniscule risk of dying in a terrorist attack." The politicians of course are happy to increase their power for any reason or no reason at all, but it is DISGUSTING how the public is so cowardly that they always allow this to happen whenever a little more safety is promised to them. This is such a disgrace to anyone familiar with how and why the USA became a nation.
  • Re:Semantics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fredrated ( 639554 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:53PM (#22397030) Journal
    I may not know what 'illegal' means, but I know that if you have to pass a law to make it legal, then it was illegal.
  • by UdoKeir ( 239957 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @04:56PM (#22397094)
    I suspect she did this deliberately. She can now still claim to be "tough" on terrorism and pro-freedom.
  • by Jimithing DMB ( 29796 ) <> on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:01PM (#22397178) Homepage

    Right. Meaning that the this little retroactive immunity provision is a stupid political statement. The people with open suits now can simply appeal the dismissals (if they even occur at all) on these grounds and the cases will again proceed. Whether or not the cases are eventually ruled for or against the telecoms is another matter. My understanding of things is that the telecoms are claiming that they only actually spied on communications with at least one foreign endpoint even though the equipment necessarily has the ability to spy on any communications.

    Remember that this is the Foreign Intelligence/Surveillance Act. If they did use it to spy on purely domestic communications without a warrant then they are probably guilty because they stepped outside the bounds of the law. Most of the cases though seem to be brought by people who were indeed having an international conversation so I think it may be difficult to win these cases against the telecoms.

  • by BirdDoggy ( 886894 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:01PM (#22397182)
    Yet another indication that our government does not represent its people.

    Americans tend not to want to be wiretapped without warrants or to give immunity to telecoms.

    Here's a survey that shows Americans are against Warrantless Wiretaps, Blanket Warrants, And Immunity For
    Telecom Companies. []
  • by monxrtr ( 1105563 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:17PM (#22397426)

    Passing a law granting retroactive immunity doesn't mean the law passed is Constitutional. The telecoms (or the taxpayers) will just spend more on legal fees overturning any immunity bill before eventually the telecoms seek out a financial settlement, exactly as the tobacco companies did, exactly as Microsoft did. Don't believe for a second, a tobacco immunity law would've been worth the paper it was written on either.
  • Game over (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Deadplant ( 212273 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:19PM (#22397476)
    It is all over folks.
    The rule of law has now been abandoned completely.

    The US government no longer even pretends to obey the law.

    Your government just dropped its drawers and shat on your constitution.

    Retroactive immunity for violations of the constitution.
    I'd call that high treason.

  • by Dr. Manhattan ( 29720 ) <[sorceror171] [at] []> on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:21PM (#22397524) Homepage

    call your Representatives (and Senators, since they're on the conferencing committee too.)

    I assume it's not the whole House and Senate - so who will actually be making the decision about whether the House or Senate version gets in the final bill?

  • by WilliamSChips ( 793741 ) <full DOT infinity AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:41PM (#22397888) Journal
    Isn't that the guy who voted to block the Supreme Court from hearing 1st Amendment Cases? (Before you give me bullshit about the states let me remind you that many of the cases that gave people free speech were against states...)
  • Re:Incorrect (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:55PM (#22398162) Homepage
    The classic example being the crime of helping escaped slaves (or being an escaped slave), which retroactively became not a crime.

    However if I'm not mistaken, this bill wouldn't actually make it retroactively legal for the telcos to conduct warrantless wiretaps whenever the government asks, it would only prevent any civil lawsuits from being brought against them for violating the relevant laws.
  • by c_forq ( 924234 ) <> on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @05:56PM (#22398180)
    I live in Michigan, which borders Canada. Going to Canada I have had my car searched a dozen times, and have spent upwards of 30 minutes talking to the border guard. Coming back I have NEVER been questioned for more than 10 minutes, have never had my car searched, and have been let through after NO questions and a quick check of IDs. I have had a bit more questioning when entering New York though. I think the border really depends on problems that particular crossing may have, and your citizenship. Getting into Detroit or Sault Ste. Marie is not a problem at all if you are a Michigander.
  • Re:Stunned (Score:5, Interesting)

    by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @06:05PM (#22398340) Journal
    For the people who don't know, here's what directive 51 is about, and how bush can stop elections and control the entire USofA without any checks from congress in any form (in fact, he'd be able to control congress). So all he has to do is provoke a war enough for him to want to declare a catastrophic emergency. []

    I've already asked about this and this was the response from Obama (the "official one" from when I emailed him using the whitehouse mail thing). Copied verbatim, and just noticed the spelling error too. Ironic.

    Additioanlly, I would like to address your concerns about the National Security Presidential Directive 51 and the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20, signed by President Bush in May, 2007.

    As you know, these directives establish procedures for continuity of the federal government in the event of a catastrophic emergency. "Continuity of government" is an effort to ensure the federal government can continue to perform essential functions during a time of emergency. Additionally, "catastrophic emergency" is defined as "any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions."

    I agree that Congress has an important obligation to monitor how the executive branch exercises its authority. The system of checks and balances enshrined in our Constitution is central to our democracy and protects us from a concentration of power in any one branch of government. I will continue to follow this issue closely with my colleagues on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs in an effort to ensure accountability and lawfulness, and I look forward to staying in touch during this process.
  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @06:16PM (#22398540) Homepage

    The tyranny of the majority, despite its popularity, is still a tyranny.
    What's important to understand is that there are two kinds of majority decisions, those that protect minorities and those that suppress minorities. To take an example, consider that we're making laws about the color of clothes. Now say 20% like red, 20% blue, 20% yellow and the other 40% a variety of colors.

    1) A law that says "Everyone has the right to choose the color of their clothes" is probably something a majority can get behind and protects the minorities
    2) A law that says "Everyone must wear red, blue or yellow" is probably also something a majority can get behind but supresses the minorities

    In a system where everyone has an equal vote (I'll leave the details of voting age and felons etc. out of this now) I don't see how a "rule by the minority" could possibly function, it seems logically impossible. Rather, what the founders understood and that they tried to pass on is that we should try to look past our own position and reach majority agreement on greater principles. I don't have to agree with what you or anyone else says, but together we can agree on freedom of expression. I don't have to agree with what you or anyone else believes in, but together we cna agree on freedom of religion. This is where you build freedom, the ability for everyone to lead different lifes according to their own choices.

    Unfortunately, it just isn't feasible to describe everything in terms of freedoms, there are also restrictions where the majority can't agree with the minority's viewpoints. If I want to drive at any speed I want, and you want speed limits there's no "greater consensus" to be reached. If you can't suppress a minority, then that's anarchy and i'd like to think there are more options than tyranny and anarchy. The question is if the suppression is legitimate - if I insist on going 200mph through a residential area then I'm endangering not only myself, but the passengers and everyone else on or near that road - that's probably legitimate. If I insist on going 200mph alone on a closed track on private property, then I would say it's not - you're just interfering for the sake of interfering. Unfortunately, I doubt you turn turn that "legitimacy" into a quantifiable measure.
  • I tried (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kilodelta ( 843627 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @06:17PM (#22398548) Homepage
    I had an email exchange with the office of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse regarding this issue. He comes down on the fence in this but I suspect he voted yes which really disappoints me. But then I know which side his bread is buttered on and whose pocket he's in so it comes as no surprise.

    Worst part is I used to work for the guy.
  • Re:Stunned (Score:3, Interesting)

    by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @06:55PM (#22399130) Journal
    Umm, no. President already controls military. This says "president can control all of congress" aka house, senate without their approval. Right now the only way president can declare war is with their approval. Do you understand the difference?

    If all hell breaks lose, a: I don't trust the president
    and B: maybe 550 people who are in the legislative body will have a better idea than our retarded president?
    instead, we'd get A: president decides everything. aka its a method to have martial law without approval from any other branch of government.
  • by Kenrod ( 188428 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @07:00PM (#22399200)
    For those who think they know something about this dispute, quick...answer these questions:

    1. Which telecoms get immunity?
    2. What are the telecoms accused of doing EXACTLY? What actual actions did they take?
    3. Who wants to sue the telecoms? What are their motives?
    4. What is the purpose of the lawsuits? Money, or something else? Remember these are civil lawsuits (you knew that, right?), so no one is going to jail.

    The real purpose of bringing civil lawsuits against the telecoms is to get them to fully reveal what information the government asked them for, and to reveal what was given. Revealing this information publicly would be a great boon to enemies of the US and will help them adjust their operations to elude the authorities.

    It's too bad so many well-meaning libertarians are ignorant of the real dangers in the world, and the dangers brought by technology, and are so quickly willing to be stooges. And not the funny kind.

  • Re:Stunned (Score:3, Interesting)

    by n dot l ( 1099033 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @07:09PM (#22399318)

    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.
    AFAIK, power is supposed to be divided in the USA. There are supposed to be many players and they are supposed to check each other. This should extend beyond the government. It's supposed to include the people (and the corporations) questioning government orders and refusing to comply with illegal orders. The problem isn't that some branch of the US government is corrupt - the US system is designed to cope with that sort of situation, it's that 90% of the power holders in the USA are playing along and letting them get away with it, something which is not supposed to happen.

    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.
    That is (or should be) a topic for the courts to rule on. It is not for Congress to do the job of AT&T's legal team.

    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?
    Well, why would you expect anyone to protest the wars, the civil rights abuses, the attempts to legislate morality, the awful fiscal policy, the wasted effort on security theater, the lack of any real border security, the decaying infrastructure, etc when they might run afoul of their home country's government? Corporations are supposed to be private endeavors. They're supposed to behave like "the people" when it comes to the way they deal with government.

    And yes, I know, big business has been in bed with big government (and against "the people") for decades now. The point is that it's not supposed to work like that, and that this legislation threatens to close an opportunity to reverse some small part that.

    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.
    Really? And how, exactly, are you going to get their names? Suing their directors at random won't work for the same reason the RIAA's random law suits don't, ultimately, work (and you wouldn't even have the advantage of being the large legal entity picking on a smaller one). The only thing there is to sue right now are the telcos themselves; individuals may be named as part of the discovery that would take place during the court proceedings but if they're given immunity then there's no way to reach that stage.
  • Telecom Immunity (Score:1, Interesting)

    by iviagnus ( 854023 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @07:11PM (#22399352)
    I sent several letters to my Representative(s), Senator(s) and Congress person(s) expressing concisely my feelings regarding why the telecom companies should NOT be granted retroactive immunity. The most important of these was the fact that no-one, person or corporation, should do anything based on the assumption of good faith. Corporations the size of AT&T retain hundreds of lawyers to advise them as to whether or not just such an action is or is not legal based on current United States law. Presently, those actions were and are illegal. But they did it anyway. I must therefore conclude that they were either threatened into complying with government demand, or they are simply "in bed with" the dark and seedy forces of our government that condone these illegal actions (read Bush administration). All I've yet to receive (of those that replied) were the usual standardized reply letters basically explaining why my opinion was opposite that of my government representatives, and that they were currently working hard to see that these corporations were given the immunity they deserved because they did what they did in good faith. Well excuse me . . . I thought our representatives in Washington worked for us, and aren't supposed to have their own oppinion unless We The People give them one. Boy, was I wrong. So much for getting involved in government affairs. The New World Order is here now. We have no names. We are nameless.
  • Re:Stunned (Score:3, Interesting)

    by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @07:21PM (#22399486) Homepage
    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?)

    Well, by giving them immunity, you'll never know, will you?

    In reality, the pressure was probably of the following form: If you cooperate with us , we'll give you lots of money; if you don't, you won't get another Government contract for the next 4-8 years (you do know that the taps started before 9-11, don't you?).

  • Re:Stunned (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @08:07PM (#22400060) Homepage
    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.

    Which just means that this AG's DoJ will not start any investigations or bring any charges, because that's the only power the AG has. The AG's opinions are nothing more than opinions, they aren't legally binding in any sense of the word, they only guide the actions of his department while he is head of it. The next AG who comes along is perfectly free to disagree and bring charges, at which case the only entity empowered to determine such things -- the courts -- will weigh in with a legally binding opinion.

    And I have a strong feeling that the courts would weigh much more heavily towards the GP's stance that following orders is not a defense.

    There's been a couple trends of what I can only call conditioning. The first, a fairly old one it seems, is that anything illegal is automatically immoral, which leads to the inverse that anything legal is automatically moral. Then there's what seems to be the more recent Bushian stance that as President he and his AG have the power to declare anything legal that they want.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2008 @10:23PM (#22401278)

    What law did the Telco's break?
    Nothing, so there's no need to give them immunity lol m i rite?

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