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June 20, 2008

Tsongas Votes Against Telco Giveaway

by at 10:17 pm.

Kudos to Rep. Niki Tsongas, who told us in the campaign that she wouldn’t capitulate to giving telecom companies immunity from their part in breaking the law and trampling our constitutional rights. She is in the list of 129 good souls who voted nay. Unfortunately, it still passed in the House. I beg the Senate to do everything, including filibustering our own Democrats if necessary, to stop this entire bill from going forward. This includes immunity for telcos, but also some of the other dangerous provisions.

And no, Senator Obama, “doing your best” to just strip immunity from the bill doesn’t cut it. Find someone on your staff to read the bill carefully, because it appears there’s a lot not to like about it (not that anyone read it thoroughly, having less than a day to review it). If your colleagues filibuster it, support that. Anything less isn’t leadership.

16 Responses to “Tsongas Votes Against Telco Giveaway”

  1. Ryan Says:

    Who would have known she’d have it in her? GOOD FOR HER!

    Sad day for Democracy and our Constitution, though.

    I’ll tell you, I’m done with Pelosi now. I had high hopes for her, but now I’m done with her. What a turdblossum!

  2. Tom Says:

    Ryan,
    You stated what I was going to post.

    Its a sad day for the United States.

  3. Josh Says:

    I plead ignorant on this issue. Did the companies freely give the information to the government or did the government issue some sort of letter saying “give us this information or else.”

    If the former is the case then they shouldn’t have any sort of immunity for their actions, but I’m a little torn if the latter is the case. I’ll wait for clarification before I make a comment on it.

  4. Mr. Lynne Says:

    ACLU on some details.

    http://www.aclu.org/safefree/nsaspying/35731res20080619.html

    I would further submit that getting a letter from the government requesting an illegal act is no excuse.

  5. Peter Says:

    I thought you said she voted against a Taco Give-away. Boy was I furious for a moment!

    Still, I do enjoy civil liberties almost as much as I enjoy tacos.

  6. Josh Says:

    Mr. Lynne: Do we want Telcom companies making their own judgements on what is and is not illegal? I’m still fuzzy on the details, but I don’t know how much blame we can assign to these companies that simply tried to follow what they regarded as (and were told was) the law.

    If a man with a badge and a gun showed up at my door, searched my home (including my roommates’ rooms) and then told me he would throw me in jail if I told anyone, I might be go along with him out of fear. (Or I might pull out my pocket constitution signed by Ron Paul and tell him to screw, but who knows…) The point is that the blame here seems to lay solely with the government (I’ll say the Bush Administration to make you guys happy!) and that’s who people should be suing.

  7. Mr. Lynne Says:

    Do you really want a situation where citizen x knows what sheriff y is asking is illegal, but figures it’s ok to do anyway? You’ve got to remember that what was asked of the telcoms was known be be illegal. They know very well what the parameters are for searches of their system, they deal with such warrants all the time. Fear wasn’t what was operative here. Even if it was, they had the power to let it be known what was asked of them. They could have blown the whistle.

    A guy with a badge tells me to hit the guy next to me as hard as I can. Is it really ok if I hit him? Actually, to make it even more analogous… a guy with a badge tells a hedge fund manager to commit what he knows to be fraud. Still good? After I do it am I under any legal or ethical obligation?

  8. joe Says:

    I thought you said she voted against a Taco Give-away.

    Great, Peter. First McCain vetoes EVERY BEER, and now this!

    You can have my Mambo Grill burritto when you pry it from my warm, greasy hand!

  9. waittilnextyr Says:

    If this is a way to get the telecons to cooperate with an investigation of the illegal actions of the government, then I would totally support it. However, if it is a way for some lawyers to instigate class action lawsuits against the telecons I would be a lot less enthusiastic, as we all know that any settlement will end up being paid by us.

    As far as suing the Government, good luck.

  10. Josh Says:

    Of course I don’t want that situation, but there are two victims here: The people who got spied on and the telcom companies who were coerced into doing the government’s dirty work.

    Here’s a better analogy: People drafted to fight in an illegal war. Do you hold the soldiers or the commander-in-chief responsible?

  11. Ryan Says:

    Josh, the Bush administration asked it of the telcoms. Some of the Telcoms did the right thing and said no way. Most were too afraid.

    Fortunately, the Bush Administration is not the Government. He had no right to try to make the Telcoms do that, and the Telcoms had no right to comply to breaking the law because Bush asked them to. Two giant branches of our Government was left out of that process, and the basis of our government was ignored (the Constitution).

    I hope that clears things up for you.

  12. Ryan Says:

    One more thing, Josh, the Telcoms weren’t coerced into anything. They probably have more lawyers than the entire population of the town I lived in. They knew exactly what they were doing. As I’ve already stated, some (not many, but a few) companies did the right thing and said no. Telcoms have a duty to protect their costumers’ privacy - they should have made the Government do what it had been doing for decades, getting warrants on a case by case basis. Instead, the Government has had carte blanche on all international calls, likely using keywords to zoom into private, legal conversations - and that’s just the stuff we know about!

  13. Mr. Lynne Says:

    Really Josh? The conspirators are also victims!??? Gotta remember that on when I’m up on my next racketeering charge. Drafted? Hardly… Nobody was going to put ATT in jail for not complying. As usual it was more likely the money they would be paid in conspiring to break the law. h/t Greenwald

    And contrary to the indescribably moronic claim by Fred Hiatt yesterday that telecoms were acting as “patriotic corporate citizens” when they turned over to the Bush administration full access to their customers’s calls and other data, the Nacchio documents leave no doubt that these telecoms were viciously competing with one another for the right to cooperate with the Federal Government — long before 9/11 — because they were hungry for the multi-billion dollar contracts for this work.

    More from Greenwald’s interview of the EFF’s Cindy Cohn h/t redandgray from BMG.

    Claims of telecoms’ “good faith”:

    GG: One of the arguments that the telecom industry is making, and that advocates of telecom immunity or amnesty are making, is that these telecoms acted in good faith when they did what they did, and so it’s unfair to punish these companies — even if they technically broke the law — because they were acting in good faith, acting as what the Washington Post Editorial Page described as good “patriotic corporate citizens” trying to protect the country. I have two questions about that:

    (1) is it true that under the law, if they can prove they acted in good faith, then at least for the statutory claims, there won’t be any liability?; and,

    (2) aren’t those claims, those arguments, that they’re making now [about their supposed “good faith”] ones that they made before Judge Walker, that he rejected, when he refused to dismiss the case against them?

    CC: Yes and yes. To answer your first question: the FISA law already has very broad immunities for the telecoms, and if it was the case that they were acting in good faith with an honest belief that what they were being asked to do was legal, then they would already have immunity, and they don’t need an additional immunity from Congress for that.

    And it’s also the case that they made all these arguments to Judge Walker and Judge Walker’s decision on this addresses those arguments very directly — he said no reasonable phone company in the position of AT&T could have thought that what they were being asked to do was legal. It is not the case that this phone company could have believed that the wholesale surveillance of millions of its customers for five years, six years and counting, could be legal under the law.

    Remember, these phone companies are very sophisticated about these FISA laws and the other laws that explain how and when they can cooperate with law enforcement. These aren’t some rouges. This isn’t Joe’s Phone Company. They are very sophisticated and know the law better than almost everyone.

    But even if they didn’t, I don’t think it takes a lot of thought to wonder: “huh, the FISA law says that the exclusive means by which the Government can get information is either by a warrant or a short-term certification from the Attorney General in an emergency situation. Huh - do either of these two things justify ongoing wholesale surveillance of all of our customers for five years and counting?”

    The answer to that has to be “no.” I don’t think you even need a law degree to figure that one out.

    (Emphasis Original)

  14. Josh Says:

    All I’m saying is that you’ve got the wrong focus. This will punish the big mean corporations and let the government off the hook. If you’re fine with that then go ahead and drag this issue out some more.

  15. Mr. Lynne Says:

    Wrong focus? I’d say treating the conspirators as if they were victims is the wrong focus. Its our constitution dammit… we are the victims. It’s not about the fact that it’s a corperation that conspired to break the law… it’s about conspiracy and breaking the law.

    With regard to letting the government off the hook, this does not do that. If anything giving them immunity bolsters the case that the administration didn’t do anything wrong. How wrong could it be if everyone is excused from any accountability. Furthermore, the discovery process of any litigation, civil or otherwise, will aid in uncovering whatever else the administration has been hiding.

    I think the push to immunize the telcoms is really a way of tying up a legal loose end that, if left exposed, could bolster the criminal cases against administration officials.

  16. joe Says:

    Josh,

    This is civil liability we’re talking about here. The Republicans want to provide the telecoms with immunity from lawsuits because they know the telecoms will roll over and rat out the government officials who leaned on them the second there is even a whiff of a lawsuit.

    No one actually thinks they will be able to recover damages from the telecoms, but they can use the discovery phase of the trial to learn all sorts of fascinating information that will implicate all sorts of high government figures.

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