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House Declines To Vote On Telecom Immunity 341

freedom_india alerts us to news that the House of Representatives declined to bring the surveillance reform bill to vote, prompting House Republicans to walk out in the middle of a session. The bill, recently passed by the Senate, includes retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies who assisted with illegal domestic wiretaps. The walk-out comes after a proposal was shot down on Wednesday that would have extended the current legislation for another three weeks.
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House Declines To Vote On Telecom Immunity

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  • Wow (Score:4, Informative)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <> on Friday February 15, 2008 @09:25AM (#22433326) Homepage Journal
    That's a one-sided report. What I heard on the radio yesterday is that the Republicans were upset that the democrats were wasting time on the vote to hold Bush Officials in contempt of Congress. The Republican senators claimed that they were in support of the investigation, but felt that President and adviser communications should have some degree of privilege. They wanted to move on to the business for the day (which happened to be the surveillance bill) and called for a walk-out when the Democrats were insistent on worrying about the (probably impotent anyway) contempt vote.
  • I'm confused... (Score:5, Informative)

    by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @09:29AM (#22433372)
    I thought the Republican walk-out was staged in response to the Dems daring to bring contempt citations against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers [].

    Was this a different walk-out?
  • by funnyguy ( 28876 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @09:37AM (#22433434)
    The republicans walked out in protest of a vote to cite two former white house officials (Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten) with contempt of Congress. House Minority Leader John Boehner argued that the House should instead be voting on an extension of the FISA bill which expires Saturday.

    The /. teaser seemed to indicate that the walk out was due to a refusal to vote on the FISA bill. That is not correct.
  • Re:Wow (Score:5, Informative)

    by dreamt ( 14798 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @09:38AM (#22433442)
    Ok, so the article didn't mention the important part that the House wants to hold the president accountable for his actions. Its not one-sided, its taking it easy on idiot-boy's insistence that his people have to follow the law. Stating both of these actions make the House look even better!

    Now, its just up to the House to enforce the contempt of Congress charges themselves, as the Justice Department isn't going to do its job in enforcing them (I read _somewhere_ that Congress does have some sort of enforcement capabilities for cases like this when Justice won't do their job).
  • Re:One can hope (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 15, 2008 @09:47AM (#22433534)
    What is sad is that tactic would not shock me if it were actually employed.
  • by webword ( 82711 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @09:55AM (#22433632) Homepage
    How did YOUR representative vote?

    "To strike the provisions providing immunity from civil liability to electronic communication service providers for certain assistance provided to the Government."

    FIND OUT! []

    McCain (R-AZ), Nay
    Obama (D-IL), Yea
    Clinton (D-NY), Not
  • Re:I'm confused.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Winders ( 784885 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @10:36AM (#22434096) Homepage
    The vote was to remove the immunity clause. Democrats voted for the removal, Republicans for its retention.
  • our hero (Score:5, Informative)

    by jt418-93 ( 450715 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @10:38AM (#22434118)
    Silvestre Reyes is the hero of this. here is a link to the letter he sent the bushenfurer, and the last paragraph (the best imho). we need more ppl like him that understand the constitution is not just a 'goddamn piece of paper'. personally, i think anyone dismissing the constitution like that is guilty of treason, and we know how to deal with that. (grandpa simpson voice)That's a hangin' []

    I, for one, do not intend to back down - not to the terrorists and not to anyone, including a President, who wants Americans to cower in fear. We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution. If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won. Sincerely,
    Silvestre Reyes
    Member of Congress
    Chairman, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @10:48AM (#22434192) Homepage

    If you were watching MSNBC last night Olbermann ripped Bush and the Republicans over telecomm immunity and this staged walk out. They were showing clips of the "spontaneous" walk out to a place where there just happened to be cameras and a podium rigged with microphones. As if there are podiums and broadcast crews stationed all over in case any of our Congress critters suddenly decide to storm out of chambers in protest.

    He called Bush and incompetent liar and so many words.

    Telcos have been dealing with wiretap law for decades, they knew what they were doing was wrong. If they're so certain their behavior was so lofty and patriotic, then let them take their chances with a jury.

    We want companies to think twice before cooperating with an illegal enterprise, regardless of the perceived threats. The FISA court is a joke, they've never turned down a request. So, how is that virtual rubber stamp impeding terrorist investigations? Or is it that they're really afraid the FISA court won't authorize wholesale spying on the American public?

  • by jrifkin ( 100192 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @10:51AM (#22434226)
    If you want to learn more about this issue, Glen Greenwald [] has been covering it well for a long time.

    Today he posted an item called FISA 101 [] which is a good place to start.

  • Re:No Immunity (Score:2, Informative)

    by cciechad ( 602504 ) <> on Friday February 15, 2008 @10:58AM (#22434314)
    Congress doesn't even have the authority to give telco's retroactive immunity. Did they miss this part of the constitution? Article 1 Section 9 "No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."
  • Re:Matters Instead (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 15, 2008 @11:28AM (#22434668)
    it should also be pointed out that they were found in contempt not because they refused to testify - they could have semi-legitimately claimed executive privilege and refused to answer questions. but what they cannot do is ignore a subpoena which is what they did. executive privilege as an excuse to not answer questions is a tenuous concept as it is, but it most certainly is not a "get out of subpoena free" card. congress and the executive are co-equal branches and if congress subpoenas someone from the executive and they just plain don't show up, that's a serious federal offense.
  • Re:Wow (Score:3, Informative)

    by funwithBSD ( 245349 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @11:45AM (#22434860)
    The papers of any branch of government, Judicial, Executive or Legislative are considered protected if it is the sole responsiblity of that branch. That is implied by "Separation of Powers"

    The first test case was Washington:

    "In 1796, President George Washington refused to comply with a request by the House of Representatives for documents which were relating to the negotiation of the then-recently adopted Jay Treaty with Great Britain. The Senate alone plays a role in the ratification of treaties, Washington reasoned, and therefore the House had no legitimate claim to the material. Therefore, Washington provided the documents to the Senate but not the House."[2]

    Also, here is the meat of the problem:

    But as telecommunications--and especially the Internet--evolved, a communication between, say, Paris and Karachi, might actually be routed through the United States and thus become off-limits to government agents without a warrant. []

    Neither end of the conversation is privileged as they are not US citizens on US soil, but because it routed through here it is covered by FISA. (you do realize any mail you send or receive across the border can be read, don't you? Your rights end at the border)

    Quite frankly, I am all for it if it expires every few years. It is a power granted in extraordinary times and it should not be perminate.
  • Re:One can hope (Score:3, Informative)

    by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @12:05PM (#22435068)


    Republicans want the House to simply pass the Senate bill, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said yesterday his chamber is "not a lap dog of the president or the United States Senate any more than they are of us."
  • Re:Wow (Score:5, Informative)

    by ROU Nuisance Value ( 253171 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @12:18PM (#22435256) Homepage
    That's a completely disingenous take on both issues in the congress, as well as the constitutional powers involved, and the Washington case:
    1. In addition to separation of powers, the constitution confers on Congress both the authority and the *duty* to conduct oversight on the operations of the executive. The executive has no comparable duty with respect to Congress. The powers conferred on congress by the constitution includes otherwise-judicial powers, including service of subpoenas and the right of enforcement of said subpoenas.
    2. In the Washington case, Congress was exercising that authority. Washington *did* comply by providing the papers requested to the Congressional body with authority to oversee his actions: the Senate. He did not stonewall congress on this.
    3. Congress is now attempting to exercise this same authority with respect to allegations of political manipulation of the Justice Department. The executive has denied access not only to papers and documents, but gagged witnesses Harriet Meirs and Josh Bolton, telling them that they may not testify to congress in any form. This is completely outside the scope of executive privilege, and congress has allowed the executive to get away with this stonewalling for over a year.
    4. Congress has (finally) gotten around to voting on a contempt of congress resolution, which is the first step to enforcing those subpoenas. We will indeed have a court test of this, and fairly soon -- but the idea that the courts are "unlikely" to support congress' privileges in this is pretty silly.
  • Re:Partially Correct (Score:1, Informative)

    by ThePlague ( 30616 ) * on Friday February 15, 2008 @12:28PM (#22435420)
    If they had actually used the old law, they would have had warrants. There would have been nothing to give the telecoms immunity over, they would have been following a court order. Voluntarily cooperating with any outside organization, government or otherwise, almost certainly violates the privacy contract between them and their customers. All the ones I've seen specifically make mention of no third party sharing unless under certain conditions. One of those is a warrant. The gov didn't have a warrant, and as such, the telecoms are subject to civil action.
  • Re:Wow (Score:3, Informative)

    by bckrispi ( 725257 ) on Friday February 15, 2008 @01:09PM (#22436010)
    If the Justice Department refuses to enforce the law, there are two options.
    1. A Judge can order the justice department to act
    2. Congress can move forward with inherent contept proceedings. From Wikipedia:

    Under this process, the procedure for holding a person in contempt involves only the chamber concerned. Following a contempt citation, the person cited is arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms for the House or Senate, brought to the floor of the chamber, held to answer charges by the presiding officer, and then subjected to punishment as the chamber may dictate (usually imprisonment for punishment reasons, imprisonment for coercive effect, or release from the contempt citation.)

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