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Senate Passes Telecom Immunity Bill 1088

zehnra writes "The U.S. Senate this afternoon passed the FISA Amendments Act, broadly expanding the president's warrantless surveillance authority and unconstitutionally granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the president's illegal domestic wiretapping program. The House of Representatives passed the same bill last month, and President Bush is expected to sign the legislation into law shortly." The New York Times has a story, as does the Associated Press (carried here by Yahoo!). Reader Guppy points out the roll call for the vote.
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Senate Passes Telecom Immunity Bill

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  • by Fred_A ( 10934 ) <fred@freds[ ] ['hom' in gap]> on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:31PM (#24123703) Homepage

    I'm sure you're all feeling a little bit better now right ?
    Um, right ?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:38PM (#24123865)

      For a moment there it looked like expensive lobbying might not be a good investment. What kind of country would this be if the corporations couldn't hire expensive lobbyists to bribe Members of Congress to give those corporations immunity to the crimes they committed in the past?

      It would be a very alien place indeed.

    • by hav0x ( 984818 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:41PM (#24123929)
      Stupidly, the sad thing is everyone is less safe after this legislation goes into law.
      The Telcos are just off the hook, for this particular clusterfuck.
      That and your administration has close to card blanche to fuck around.
      Sure glad i'm european
      ... gah
    • by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) * on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @05:49PM (#24125433)
      We are only going to use it to snoop on phone calls to and from Sweden. The Russians asked us to do it.
  • by base3 ( 539820 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:31PM (#24123707)
    While they might not miss the relatively few votes of those of us who cared about the Republic, at least we'll be able to say we made the attempt.
    • by Selfbain ( 624722 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:32PM (#24123725)
      But you better not say it too loudly because they'll be listening.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:39PM (#24123885)

      For a while I thought Obama may have been worth voting for, but now its clear that he is just a Pol and not enough better than McCain to be worth voting for. I'm going to be limiting my choice to the Libertarian or Green candidates for President this fall.

      • by Free the Cowards ( 1280296 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:44PM (#24124011)

        It's axiomatic that any person who does what is necessary to become a viable Presidential candidate will not be worth voting for.

        • by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:51PM (#24124167) Journal

          Looks like its time to form a new political party.

          Guess I'll start my campaigning this year; as its going to take more than 8 years for this stuff to start to fix itself up.

          Republicans, democrats, both are horrible and pitiful excuses for the most part as politicians. Both have sold out.

      • by shipbrick ( 929823 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @05:39PM (#24125235)
        Yep. Obama just gave Bob Barr [] my vote.
  • Some days... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scubamage ( 727538 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:32PM (#24123715)
    "He who trades essential liberty for temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety."

    I'm thinking its time we start looking at the French Revolution for advice.

    • Re:Some days... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by qbzzt ( 11136 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:43PM (#24123983)

      I'm thinking its time we start looking at the French Revolution for advice.

      Just remember, it ended with a Napoleon that was every bit as authoritarian as the old kings.

    • Re:Some days... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @05:05PM (#24124471)

      That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

      Every day I wish more that this is going to be during my lifetime.

      Sadly I don't see such a revolution happening again. In the past you got a quite a few guys with weapons and you were about equal. I look around at non violent drug offenders being locked up. Abuse of power by all 3 branches. A minority of public that actually knows what is going on and a majority that wants to know when the next American Idol starts.

      If I were to get a few hundred people together and try to split off I'm sure the Police, National Guard, US Army would have something to say. I'd be locked away for life for "Terrorism". If I blew up a few buildings (killing no one), I'd be a terrorist. If I organized a protest I'd be locked in the corner and labeled a nut.

      There have been revolutions against insurmountable odds, but I don't think there has been any army in history that is as one sided as what the US currently has.

      Just a minute, someone's knocking at the door...

      • Re:Some days... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bulled ( 956533 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @05:17PM (#24124741)
        Revolutions are only successful when the people fighting for them have little to nothing to lose. We know this in America, it is why the majority of people can survive even if in uncomfortable situations. As long as a majority are fed, housed, and clothed reasonably well you will not see revolution.
  • by cromar ( 1103585 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:32PM (#24123727)
    I wrote my senators. Fat lot of good that shit does. They don't care. This nation needs a serious shakeup NOW.
    • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:34PM (#24123761)

      I was somewhat surprised to see my normally idiotic senators vote the correct way for once.

      However, I'm disappointed that Obama voted yes. He'll be getting some angry email from me.

    • by Kenshin ( 43036 ) <> on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:37PM (#24123825) Homepage

      I wrote my senators. Fat lot of good that shit does.

      You probably forgot to put a few $100 bills in the envelopes.

    • We had one. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Grendel Drago ( 41496 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:38PM (#24123851) Homepage

      Don't you remember 2006? When the largest upheaval in Congressional history happened, giving a clear mandate to our lawmakers to end the war? Somehow that didn't happen. Somehow the legislative groundwork got laid for another war in the meantime.

      My congresscritters happened to be on the right side of this. If yours were not, I strongly suggest calling their offices and informing them that (if they're Democrats) your donations next election cycle will be going to their challenger in the primary. And then, of course, following through on that.

      • Re:We had one. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @05:11PM (#24124609) Journal

        Actually, 1994 was the biggest upheaval in Congress. The Democrats held majority power for 30+ years to that point, and looked to continue that hold... then suddenly this guy named Gingrich and a whole horde of opposition party candidates won a cascade of elections, blasting out a huge majority for themselves. The Senate fell to GOP rule just as quickly as the House did.

        2006 really was no upheaval because the GOP majority in Congress had slowly begun to wane ever since 1998 or so... it was a slow shift if nothing else.

        Incidentally, Barack Obama voted "Yea" on this bill. Not "Present", not "Npot voting", not "No"... he voted for it.

        I wonder what the DNC and its fan base is going to do when they find out en masse? I wonder how they'll spin it if McCain's campaign ever gets its head out of its collective ass and spreads word about it?

        Interesting, to say the least...


  • Damnit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by martinw89 ( 1229324 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:32PM (#24123729)
    I have no words for how cheated I feel right now.
  • by Aggrajag ( 716041 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:35PM (#24123781)
    "Obama (D-IL), Yea"
  • More On Immunity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsmith-mac ( 639075 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:35PM (#24123799)

    From CNN []

    Question: Will telecommunications firms be prosecuted for helping the intelligence community conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans?

    Benson: Although the Bush administration had wanted the telephone providers who cooperated with the surveillance program to receive outright retroactive immunity, this bill sets up a process for judicial review.

    A U.S. District Court judge hearing a pending case will determine whether the telecommunications provider received from the government letters which indicated the president had authorized the warrantless surveillance and that the program was considered lawful. If so, the lawsuit will be thrown out.

    Opponents argue this is a sham and say that the telecommunications are essentially being granted retroactive immunity because Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence (DNI), testified at a congressional hearing that all of the telephone carriers did receive government certifications.

    Some Republican supporters have called this process a "formality" and even Democratic proponents indicate it is likely that most, if not all, of the cases against the telephone companies will be dismissed.

    In short: They aren't outright granted immunity, but instead a hearing will be held where they will undoubtedly be granted immunity. Bloody Democrats, they never have a spine when they need one.

    PS: Hello to whatever TLA is currently monitoring this

    • Re:More On Immunity (Score:4, Interesting)

      by sesshomaru ( 173381 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:47PM (#24124079) Journal
      Is it a fact that the Democrats lack spine? Or is it that Democrats believe that the President should be above the law and those who aid him should be above the law. I'd say it is the latter.

      Ultimately, I've always felt that watching the Democrats and Republicans is along the lines of watching a rivalry between say, Harvard and Yale (almost literally). In other words, while they might have the odd tiff, they still see each other as Ivy Leaguer's and the rest of us as schmucks.


      Here's a test, what did Nancy Pelosi say was "Off the table" when she became Speaker:

      A. Nuking Iran

      B. Drilling in ANWAR

      C. Impeaching the President or Vice President

      If you answered C, you've been paying attention, are very cynical or both (likely because paying attention will inevitably lead to becoming cynical.).

    • Bloody Democrats? (Score:5, Informative)

      by stomv ( 80392 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @05:05PM (#24124475) Homepage

      Of the 49 Democrats in the Senate, the vote was 20-27-1 for FISA -- the Dems as a group voted against the bill, with Kennedy not present.

      Of the 2 Independents in the Senate, the vote was 1-1-0 for FISA -- Sanders voted against, Lieberman for.

      Of the 49 Republicans in the Senate, the vote was 47-0-2 for FISA -- the Republicans as a group voted unanimously for the bill, with McCain and Sessions not present.

      So it seems to me the beef ought not to be with the "Bloody Democrats" -- but rather with 100% of the Republican Senators, 50% of the Independent Senators, and roughly 40% of the Democratic Senators.

  • Note: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) * on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:36PM (#24123805) Homepage Journal

    McCain abstained.
    Obama voted yea.
    Biden voted nay
    Kerry voted nay
    Hillary voted nay

    Now you know for real who stands for freedom and change and who doesn't.

  • by Lost+Found ( 844289 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:36PM (#24123813)
    "Change we can believe in" No change at all...
  • Deplorable (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ( 463190 ) * on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:37PM (#24123837) Homepage


    Why didn't Obama try to stop this? He could have spoken out and got the rest of the dems behind him. Instead he voted in favor of it. This is what his campaign said in October:

    "To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies."

    And on Dec 17:

    Granting such immunity undermines the constitutional protections Americans trust the Congress to protect. Senator Obama supports a filibuster of this bill, and strongly urges others to do the same.

    Oh sure, he voted for the amendments which attempted to remove or limit the immunity, but everyone already knew those would fail.

    This is from his most recent statement last week:

    The ability to monitor and track individuals who want to attack the United States is a vital counter-terrorism tool, and I'm persuaded that it is necessary to keep the American people safe -- particularly since certain electronic surveillance orders will begin to expire later this summer. Given the choice between voting for an improved yet imperfect bill, and losing important surveillance tools, I've chosen to support the current compromise.

    Another nail in the coffin for our constitution. This is a sad day. And to think that most of the senate voted on this WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING WHAT THEY WERE GIVING THE TELCOMS IMMUNITY FOR!!!.

    This stinks of a grand-scale coverup. There is still the possibility of suing the government, and perhaps striking this bill as unconsitutional. Let's hope we get to the bottom of this and put some people in jail.

  • Such a pity. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:38PM (#24123849)

    Here I'd had hopes for Obama. Real hopes, too. But if he'd betray his country on a vote like this, then I just lost a great deal of respect for the man.

  • by crhylove ( 205956 ) <> on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:38PM (#24123859) Homepage Journal

    And why are they not marching on Washington to protect the constitution? If they bring the M16s, I'll be right there with the bullhorn, stretchers, and snacks. Unless they want to teach me how to use an M16.

  • by StefanJ ( 88986 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:39PM (#24123889) Homepage Journal

    Now the government has the tools it needs to protect us. Don't you feel more protected? I feel more protected!

    My freedoms are so protected too. Freedom to write things like:

    "I wish each member of the Bush administration was dipped in a vat full of Poison Oak sap, and that each senator and representative was made to take turns scratching the oozing blisters on their private parts."

  • by maillemaker ( 924053 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:42PM (#24123947)

    It's time for encryption of electronic communications to be the standard rather than the exception.

    Make it too expensive to eavesdrop.

  • Unconstitutional? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hardburn ( 141468 ) <hardburn&wumpus-cave,net> on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:42PM (#24123965)

    Can somebody explain the constitutional argument here? I can understand the illegal nature of warrentless wiretapping, but not the retroactively granting amnesty part. That seems like something that'd be within congress' power to grant, should it so choose.

  • by plazman30 ( 531348 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:44PM (#24124017) Homepage

    The Supreme Court needs to step in and strike this down. Someone needs to bring a lawsuit and get it sent up to the Supreme Court.

    When FISA courts can grant RETROACTIVE warrants, why does the Bush administration insist on not getting a warrant?

    Because they were doing far more than just looking for terrorists.

    A true sad day in the US.

    Glad I voted for Ron Paul. I'll be using him as a write in come November.

    • by Xtravar ( 725372 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:54PM (#24124221) Homepage Journal

      A true sad day in the US.

      Glad I voted for Ron Paul. I'll be using him as a write in come November.

      May I humbly suggest voting for a third party, any third party, with which your protest vote will count?

      Ron Paul has said not to write in his name. He isn't even registered as a write-in candidate.

      So while it's quite romantic to write in his name, it might be a little more effective to demonstrate our discontent with third party votes which will actually show up on official tallies. I'd recommend Libertarian or Green.

  • Ex Post Facto (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chinakow ( 83588 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:45PM (#24124039)

    Doesn't this fly in the face of article 1 section 9 [] of the constitution? In paragraph 3 is states, "No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed." That seems rather straightforward to me and since this decriminalizes something after the fact it sounds like an Ex Post Facto law to me.

  • by Seakip18 ( 1106315 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:46PM (#24124049) Journal

    To fulfill it's balance power. Oh...what? um..They support it? Who would appoint judges that would?.....Oh....Dang. Guess it'll be up to the next wave of judges to do the right thing.....if that even it exists by the time they get there.

  • The actual impact (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:49PM (#24124125)

    In between reading the legislation (which none of you will do) and reading only the summary, you might consider reading some analysis of this by someone who Is A Lawyer:

    Dean explains why current legislation regarding FISA would not hamper the next president's ability to push forward with criminal charges; cites the position regarding possible criminal charges that Obama had previously voiced; and describes the pardon dilemma with which President Bush may be faced if Obama continues to adhere to that position.

    Article here: []

  • by wwwgregcom ( 313240 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @04:50PM (#24124143) Journal

    I have supported Obama since last August. I have the bumper sticker and T-shirt to prove it. Mr. Obama just lost my support. His telecom position was one of the key reasons I supported him. The bumper sticker has already been removed.

  • by daeg ( 828071 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @05:05PM (#24124457)

    I was donating fairly regularly to Mr. Obama for his quest for Presidency. I urge those that were doing the same to move their future donations from Mr. Obama and the DNC to the ACLU, which is vowing to fight FISA and the immunity in court [].

  • by Fireye ( 415617 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @05:09PM (#24124561)
    I'm quite annoyed that one of my two senators voted in favor of this amendment, and I've already written her an email, not that she'll ever read it.
    Anywho, Feingold had a really nice position-point short written up on this subject, and I found myself to be largely in agreement with his views. []
    When Congress passed FISA three decades ago, in the wake of the extensive, well-documented wiretapping abuses of the 1960s and 1970s, it decided that, in the future, telephone companies should not simply assume that any government request for assistance to conduct electronic surveillance was appropriate. It was clear that some checks needed to be in place to prevent future abuses of this incredibly intrusive power â" the power to listen in on peopleâ(TM)s personal conversations...
    ...So Congress devised a system that would take the guesswork out of it completely. Under that system, which is still in place today, the companiesâ(TM) legal obligations and liability depend entirely on whether the government has presented the company with a court order or a certification stating that certain basic requirements have been met. If the proper documentation is submitted, the company must cooperate with the request and is immune from liability. If the proper documentation has not been submitted, the company must refuse the governmentâ(TM)s request, or be subject to possible liability in the courts.
  • Get Angry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @05:16PM (#24124705) Homepage

    The ability to monitor and track individuals who want to attack the United States is a vital counter-terrorism tool, and I'm persuaded that it is necessary to keep the American people safe -- particularly since certain electronic surveillance orders will begin to expire later this summer. Given the choice between voting for an improved yet imperfect bill, and losing important surveillance tools, I've chosen to support the current compromise. -- Obama

    Hang on - typo in there...

    Given the choice between sacrificing the 4th amendment and losing important surveillance tools, I've chosen to support the current compromise. -- Obama

    There, fixed that for ya.

    Thanks for the run Obama, it was nice to have six months to believe there could be a principled President.

    Now, let's all drop the depression, disappointment, and bargaining. And for damned sure let's not slip into acceptance. Let's focus on the right phase of grief for this ongoing usurpation of our nation; anger.

  • by maynard ( 3337 ) <j.maynard.gelina ... minus cat> on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @05:32PM (#24125091) Journal

    I have sent off my registration form and am now officially "unenrolled". I'll not donate to the Democrats any longer. And I certainly won't vote for Obama, who may have voted for Dodd's amendment but clearly supported this constitutional obscenity.

    No more political parties. Its time to boot both Democrats and Republicans from governance. Both party leaderships have proven themselves utterly corrupt.

  • Money! (Score:5, Informative)

    by sleigher ( 961421 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @05:56PM (#24125571)
    Here's a part of the money trail

    Telecom Contributions - 2006

    Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Speaker of the House
    Time Warner $13,200
    AT&T Inc $13,000
    Comcast Corp $10,000
    Communications Workers of America $10,000
    National Cable & Telecommunications Assn $10,000
    Total Pelosi $56,200

    Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chmn. Sen. Intell. Cmte.
    AT&T Inc $16,000
    National Cable & Telecommunications Assn $16,000
    BellSouth Corp $14,900
    Total Rockefeller $46,900

    Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-CA), House Majority Leader
    AT&T Inc $12,000
    Comcast Corp $10,000
    National Cable & Telecommunications Assn $10,000
    Time Warner $10,000
    Total Hoyer $42,000

    Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader
    BellSouth Corp $31,050

    Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader
    AT&T Inc $22,000
    Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), House Minority Leader
    NelNet Inc $19,600
  • by grandpa-geek ( 981017 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @06:21PM (#24126071)

    A few years ago, when the whole warrantless wiretapping issue broke, Slashdot posted an article speculating on what was going on. The author looked at the public statements, developed a technical conjecture of what was probably happening, showed that the public statements correlated with the technical conjecture, and talked about the implications.

    IIRC, the article suggested that a system called Echelon, that had been deployed outside the US, had been deployed inside the US. Echelon was rumored to contain technology that sampled all voice conversations in a telephone system for certain words/phrases and decided to listen more closely to ones that triggered certain criteria.

    IIRC, the article then pointed out that if done within the US and thus requiring a warrant for each instance of listening, there were not enough personnel in the entire US judicial system to process all the warrants that would be needed.

    That is likely to be the context for what this is all about. It may well be a very difficult call. Also, the entire debate has taken place without this information publicly on the table, even on a basis of taking the speculation as an assumption by those debating the issue.

    If you think about the issue in these terms, the telecom immunity becomes somewhat of a sideshow and the imposition of judicial oversight on the criteria for further listening becomes the most critical aspect. An important purpose of the telecom immunity lawsuits was to find out what was happening. I think the article provides us an educated guess, and that the debate can become an informed one and not just an argument in the dark about principles without an understanding of the underlying technology.

  • by teshuvah ( 831969 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2008 @07:05PM (#24126677)
    I'm sure he won't read this, won't care, but nonetheless I wrote this:


    Mr. Obama,

    I am writing to you in regards to your vote on the telecom immunity/FISA bill today. I have never voted in my life, mostly because I've always felt that all politicians, especially presidential candidates, are all corrupted to the core. Bribes, AKA "campaign contributions", are what get laws passed in this country. I feel that we have become the United Corporations of America, in such that the country is completely run by corporate-bought politicians.

    Then you came along. Your message of change and hope, your rejection of lobbyists, and your sincerity caused me to believe in a candidate for the first time in my life. I was a big evangelizer of yours. I thought that maybe, just maybe this country had a chance to return to the ideals that our founding fathers believed in. You seemed to be our country's last hope.

    But then you voted in favor of the FISA/telecom immunity bill. For months you've been saying that you did not support it, but then after you won the primaries, you seemed to have changed your tune. I cannot fathom how the Barack Obama I supported in the primaries could vote for such a bill. The bill is beyond unconstitutional. Increasing the president's abilities to illegally spy on Americans is bad enough, but now the telecoms who illegally participated in the past get immunity. How is this change? How is this hope? How is this anything different than the past decades of corporate bought and paid for government? Removing even more of our civil liberties, and giving a "get out of jail free" card to those telecoms is not change. It's more of the same.

    I'm sure your position was switched because your top analysts told you that a vote against it would make you seem soft on terrorism. I had assumed you would do what you do best though - stand up and explain the situation from your perspective, and straighten everyone out. You did the same thing with the whole Jeremiah Wright ordeal. The media was having a frenzy, and you did something unprecedented - you talked to the media and the American people like a real person, not a politician. I had assumed you would stand your ground with the FISA bill, and address the American people as to why you voted that way. But instead, you fell into the trap that the current administration's fearmongering has laid.

    I'm very sorry that you voted for this bill. With one single vote of yours, you have now lost me as a voter. I will no longer endorse you to those I know, and will work to make sure people I know understand the implications of this illegal bill you voted for. I know I am not the only one that feels this way. The internet is swarming with angry, upset supporters of yours, who feel the same as I do. They too will be abstaining from voting this November.

    I haven't given up on you yet, and I'm hoping that you will do something publicly in the next few days to address this, and win my support back. I want to believe in hope and change, but frankly all I see now is another politician who managed to trick me. I hope you can prove me wrong.


    A Former Obama Supporter

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson