The rest of Congress could learn a thing or two about leadership from Senator Dodd, and we thank him for his efforts in protecting our freedoms. Keep up the good work!
Previously brewed in New Milford:
Illegal Surveillance and the Telecoms - Just the Facts
- In December 2005, the New York Times reported that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans have had their phones wiretapped by the National Security Agency (NSA) without any judicial review. But the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed by Congress in 1978, prohibits domestic spying unless a warrant is first issued by the FISA Court. By authorizing government spies to bypass the process mandated by FISA, President Bush authorized them to break the law.
- The so-called “Protect America Act,” which passed in August, made the situation worse by sanctioning a legal infrastructure under which American citizens might unwittingly be subject to daily, repeated invasions of privacy or violations of other constitutional rights. These liberties are not abstract or optional. Freedom from government spying on our private lives is at the core of what it means to be an American – the kind of personal liberty that hundreds of thousands of Americans have died to protect.
- All parties involved must be held accountable for any illegal activity, including telecommunications companies (telecoms) that satisfied government requests for information about private communications. FISA currently provides sufficient mechanisms to allow telecoms to proceed lawfully with such requests. Every American should have the confidence that our judicial system will ensure that telecoms will not be permitted to circumvent this established process and undermine our fundamental right to privacy.
- It is unacceptable that the FISA reform being debated now seeks blanket immunity for the telecoms’ alleged complicity in the Administration’s actions. If the telecoms never have to testify, Americans may never know the true extent to which they have been targeted for surveillance. We have a right to know what’s been done and how far the overreaching went.
- In protecting the telecoms, the Administration is protecting itself. At a minimum, the Administration should not be given the power to bury the secrets of its domestic spying program by keeping the telecoms out of court. Telecom immunity not only has the potential to excuse illegal activity, it also precludes the public from getting access to information and prevents Congress from conducting effective oversight.
- Immunity compromises will not serve the interests of the American people. Substituting the government as the defendant in telecom lawsuits will only further rob Americans of their day in court by forcing them to sue a government that may use the power of the executive, state secrets, and other “privileges” to withhold information. Reimbursing the telecoms for their legal costs through indemnification rests financial burden on the taxpayers – essentially Americans paying for spying to which they object.
- Congress should err on the side of our Constitution and not bow to political pressure by signing off on telecom immunity. Americans deserve nothing less.
Now... There is one aspect of this that gets overlooked by many. BooMan makes a reasonable case that the entire lawsuit issue for telecoms is completely bogus:
There is no reason to immunize the telecom corporations because they are already immunized if they had a good faith reason to believe they were following the law. The only reason to immunize them is to prevent the truth about the extent of the lawbreaking from coming to light.Even if this were not the case and they acted in bad faith the matter of lawsuits was already settled in the market place:
It has nothing to do with lawsuits and everything to do with covering the asses of the politicians that have acted criminally by illegally spying on Americans. Don't let them switch the topic to something as piddly as minor lawsuits that will cost telcoms a minuscule slice of their profits:And even if the matter was not already settled in the market place... As Russ Feingold said, "Congress can intervene to limit the damages." Do not let them distract you from the fact that the bush administration was illegally spying on Americans, and not just after 911 but before that, according reports:The lawsuit distraction is just that... A distraction from the real issue of the bush illegally spying on Americans.
The Bush team argue impending financial doom for the telecom industry should lawsuits be permitted to continue. However, at this time, the financial impact is speculative (pdf file) with a market that “seems unconcerned” about the lawsuits filed against telecoms:
For example, when the complaint in Hepting v. AT&T Corp. was filed and when AT&T’s motion to dismiss the suit was denied, AT&T’s stock price remained essentially unaffected. The entirety of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s regulatory system requiring public filings and disclosures is premised on the idea that, when the relevant information is available publicly, the market is the most effective indicator of the value of a corporation. That the stock price of AT&T was unaffected by the suit indicates the market’s determination that the company’s financial footing remains sound, despite the potential liability.
Moreover, telecommunications carriers have survived enormous payouts in class action suits in the past. For example, in September of this year, Sprint received preliminary approval from the court for a $30 million class-action settlement. And in 1994, AT&T agreed to pay a $100 million settlement. Just as they have for the other risks incumbent in their business, telecommunications carriers have liability insurance to protect them in the event of an adverse civil judgment. And if, at some point in the future, a series of judgments comes to present a threat of widespread bankruptcy in the telecommunications industry, the government may take action at that time. But any preemptive liability shield is premature and unneeded.
Thus, should the telecom lawsuits proceed and if damages are awarded by the courts and if the damages are not covered by telecom liability insurance, and if Congress then determines that a bailout is needed for the industry, then Congress has the authority to legislate funding to the industry, thus preserving the plaintiffs’ right to a judicial remedy and the public’s right to a transparent government. As Sen. Feingold notes:Moreover, if the concern is financial liability, why is the immunity so broad that “cases will be dismissed even if they do not seek money damages but only declaratory and injunctive relief.”
If the companies engaged in such widespread illegal conduct that the damages would be enormous, Congress can intervene to limit the damages. That’s a far more appropriate response than simply giving the companies a free pass for any illegal conduct.
A former telecom executive told us that efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president's now celebrated secret executive order. The source, who asked not to be identified so as not to out his former company, reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a "data-mining" operation, which might eventually cull "millions" of individual calls and e-mails.Any reasonable person would realize that invocation of 911 by anyone is completely bogus when the illegal spying was, in fact, started before that date. Equally important here is the fact that it was not just Foreign calls that were being monitored, BUT all of the traffic on their networks:
Like the pressure applied to ITT a half-century ago, our source says the government was insistent, arguing that his competitors had already shown their patriotism by signing on. The NSA would not comment on the issue, saying that, "We do not discuss details of actual or alleged operational issues."
Although the president told the nation that his NSA eavesdropping program was limited to known Al Qaeda agents or supporters abroad making calls into the U.S., comments of other administration officials and intelligence veterans indicate that the NSA cast its net far more widely. AT&T technician Mark Klein inadvertently discovered that the whole flow of Internet traffic in several AT&T operations centers was being regularly diverted to the NSA, a charge indirectly substantiated by John Yoo, the Justice Department lawyer who wrote the official legal memos legitimizing the president's warrantless wiretapping program. Yoo told FRONTLINE: "The government needs to have access to international communications so that it can try to find communications that are coming into the country where Al Qaeda's trying to send messages to cell members in the country. In order to do that, it does have to have access to communication networks."And when I say all of the traffic, I mean telephone calls, both local and foreign, as well as all internet and Email traffic:
Conventional wisdom has long been that the bulk of the surveillance operations -- groundbreaking because they lacked judicial oversight -- involved primarily telephone calls. However, officials say the Bush administration's program frequently went after e-mail and other Internet traffic.These actions by the bush administration go far beyond being simply criminal. They are an attack on the The Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
What part of these oaths do the politicians that swear to them fail to understand here?
- Presidential Oath:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
- For Congress Members:
"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter."