Crash course on telecom immunity

This is an essay I wrote in January about the FISA telecom wiretapping “legalization” that Obama opposed in rhetoric, but then voted for anyway. Glenn Greenwald has some excellent information about the ordeal, and also discusses details about a party AT&T threw at the DNC convention for the “Blue Dog” (conservative) Democrats who voted for the pro-Bush legislation.

This is my take on all this, which is admittedly crude–but so was the FISA bill.

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The illegal wiretapping program that Bush “forced” on the telecom companies is getting a boost by a new immunity deal currently being pushed through Congress.  This would grant the telecoms the legal authority to break federal law–no, seriously, that’s what it’s about.

But the problem is that since the first program was demanded by Bush for “national security purposes” that supposedly trumped any nagging legal concerns, there should be no need for the telecoms to have legal immunity now.  After all, if Bush can impose illegal  wiretapping by fiat, the telecoms should have no liability at all, right?  Why provide a loophole when the President says he doesn’t need one in the first place?  Of course many telecoms said no to the illegal wiretapping and have thus far not been labeled “traitors”, so the idea that the government needs to legalize an illegal procedure that no one will admit was illegal seems… well, batshit insane.

Imagine if a police department asked taxi companies across the city if they could use their cabs to run over pedestrians, hoping that some of the people they hit would turn out to be terrorists.  Plenty of companies would naturally refuse to agree to something so blatantly illegal and irrational, but a few might agree.  Now imagine that this whole scheme was exposed by the local news.  City hall would have an obvious responsibility to punish the police and complicit cab companies, but instead city hall decides to create a secret tribunal to determine when it is appropriate for police to commandeer cabs to smash into people, and includes blanket immunity to those companies who participate in vehicular manslaughter for justice.

That’s pretty much what Congress is trying to do now.

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