Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mission Almost Accomplished: Immunity For Telecoms Is On The Way

Immunity is on the way for our spying-without-a-warrant telecoms, as Eric Lichtblau reports in the New York Times:
After months of wrangling, Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress struck a deal on Thursday to overhaul the rules on the government’s wiretapping powers and provide what amounts to legal immunity to the phone companies that took part in President Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The deal, expanding the government’s powers in some key respects, would allow intelligence officials to use broad warrants to eavesdrop on foreign targets and conduct emergency wiretaps without court orders on American targets for a week if it is determined important national security information would be lost otherwise. If approved, as appears likely, it would be the most significant revision of surveillance law in 30 years.

The agreement would settle one of the thorniest issues in dispute by providing immunity to the phone companies in the Sept. 11 program as long as a federal district court determines that they received legitimate requests from the government directing their participation in the warrantless wiretapping operation.

With some AT&T and other telecommunications companies now facing some 40 lawsuits over their reported participation in the wiretapping program, Republican leaders described this narrow court review on the immunity question as a mere “formality.”

“The lawsuits will be dismissed,” Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 2 Republican in the House, predicted with confidence.
Somehow we won't be surprised. Even the supposedly liberal NYT can't help piling on:
The proposal — particularly the immunity provision — represents a major victory for the White House after months of dispute. “I think the White House got a better deal than they even they had hoped to get,” said Senator Christopher Bond, the Missouri Republican who led the negotiations.

The White House immediately endorsed the proposal, which is likely to be voted on in the House on Friday and in the Senate next week.

While passage seems almost certain in Congress, the plan will nonetheless face opposition from lawmakers on both political wings, with some conservatives asserting that it includes too many checks on government surveillance powers and liberals asserting that it gives legal sanction to a wiretapping program that they contend was illegal in the first place.
It WAS illegal in the first place. And worse than that: The system it was designed to replace was illegal too!

FISA was established to circumvent the Fourth Amendment. The new law is designed to take out the few teeth that remain in FISA. And the passage seems almost certain in Congress, which once again is preparing to give the White House even more than it ever expected to get -- all of which is blatantly illegal.

But the law doesn't matter anymore, and neither does the truth. Not to the White House, and not to the New York Times.

You probably noticed that long ago ... but everybody needs a reminder now and again.