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Telco Immunity Goes To Full Debate 154

Dr. Eggman notes an Ars Technica analysis of the firefight that is the current Congressional debate over granting retrospective immunity to telecoms that helped the NSA spy on citizens without warrants. A Republican cloture motion, which would have blocked any further attempts to remove the retroactive immunity provision, has failed. This controversial portion of the Senate intelligence committee surveillance bill may now be examined in full debate. At the same time, a second cloture motion — filed by Congressional Democrats in an effort to force immediate vote on a 30 day extension to the Protect America Act — also failed to pass. The Protect America Act has been criticized for broadly expanding federal surveillance powers while diminishing judicial oversight. While the failure of this second cloture motion means the Protect America Act might expire, a vote tomorrow on a similar motion in the House will likely bring the issue back into the Senate in time. It seems, according to the article, that both parties feel that imminent expiration of the Protect America Act is a disaster for intelligence gathering, and each side blames the other as progress grinds to a halt."
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Telco Immunity Goes To Full Debate

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  • Hmm (Score:1, Insightful)

    If it passes I wish that I had enough money to hire a lawyer and take this law to the Supreme Court as I do believe that somewhere in some old document called the Constitution it say something about not passing laws ex post facto. It's not like it'd be hard to win either, it's pretty clear about that in the Constitution, unless everything is truly corrupted and there's just no hope left.
    • Re:Hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

      by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:19AM (#22220478) Journal
      Never mind ex post facto for a minute. The Protect America Act has been in place how long? What has it accomplished? What? For all these rights that have been trampled, what has been gained? What? Name one positive good outcome from it?

      Perhaps it's time to remind your representatives that you want some ROI here. My constitutional rights are very expensive. If their abuse of my rights does not land bin laden in jail, or bolster the free world by some provably huge fscking margin, then I'm going to want to see rolling heads. So far... I'm thinking of rolling heads (figuratively speaking... say hello to the nice FBI agents)
      • For all these rights that have been trampled, what has been gained?

        Uhh? people have less rights - what more do you want? - and, by virtue of all the hoo-hah (tm) "omg, there's a terrorist behind you", people are afraid. I seem to recall someone mentioning that a fearful electorate is easier to control. So, there you have it - mission accomplished.
      • ...What? Name one positive good outcome from it?
        Perhaps it's time to remind your representatives that you want some ROI here.
        Do you seriously believe any such results would be released legally within the public domain? More likely to be a topic of discussion in closed testimony before Congress.
    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:29AM (#22220542) Journal

      it say something about not passing laws ex post facto

      Umm, IANALOCLS (I am not a lawyer or Constitutional Law Scholar), but my understanding has always been that only prevents the Government from passing retroactive laws that criminalize events in the past... i.e: if alcohol prohibition is passed tomorrow they can't punish me for drinking today. It doesn't prevent them from retroactively decriminalizing something.

      Granted, it's a load of shit that they are even considering immunity for these bastards, but I still think you'd lose if you tried to argue against it on the basis of ex post facto laws.

      • Funny (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Granting pardons is the duty of the President or head of the executive branch.
        Granting immunity is the domain of the Judicial branch.

        Nowhere in here is the Legislative branch involved.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by c_forq ( 924234 )
          Because you left out decriminalization. Do you think that when it was decided that prohibition of alcohol was a bad idea that it should be left up to the President and the Judicial system to give everyone pardons and immunity (which in most cases someone has to be arrested for something before they can receive either)? Don't you think it would be a hell of a lot easier of the legislators were able to change and retract laws? I would like to point out at this time there have probably been more judges boug
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jrp2 ( 458093 )
            Agreed. Actually, it is not uncommon to pass laws that decriminalize past acts.

            Here in Illinois we had just such a situation a few years ago. http://www.reason.com/news/show/36162.html [reason.com]

            To summarize, a homeowner shot a burglar that was in his home. The homeowner was not charged with the shooting as it was deemed to be in self-defense, but was charged for violating the town's ban on handguns. A major bruhaha ensued.

            The state legislature passed a law giving people charged with violating a local government's
    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Informative)

      by flappedjack ( 1228928 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:34AM (#22220578)
      Ex post facto (Latin for "after the fact") means that a person cannot be prosecuted for violating laws passed after he/she committed an act. So if I were to call Congress a bunch of asshats, and 3 days later Congress were to pass a law banning all mockery of that very august body, I still could not be prosecuted. (And all of that could happen, because most members of Congress are, as we all know, asshats.) But ex post facto says nothing about being granted immunity after the fact. Basically, there is nothing in the constitution that prevents the government from selling out to corporations, even retrospectively. Damned asshats.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by vastabo ( 530415 )
      You wouldn't have standing to sue unless you could prove: 1) That'd you'd been surveiled 2) That the surveillance had caused you harm--which, incidentally, is the point of the legislation in the first place.
    • Actually, you would have almost not chance of winning with the current Supreme Court.

      This court has struck down time and time again in any case where a person who brings the lawsuit cannot demonstrate that they have been harmed (mostly on controversial cases that they don't want to deal with).

      And since the warrantless wiretaps were done in secret and there is no chance that you can find out whether or not your phone was tapped, and thus, you would have no standing in the eyes of this Supreme Court. Th

  • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:12AM (#22220426) Homepage Journal
    I really wish they would start giving honest descriptive names to Bills, rather than marketing names. Seriously, just like the new 'Economic Stimulus' bill, that should be 'It's an Election Year, here's a handout that won't really affect the economy much'. Bills to impose new taxes should have names like 'Bend over for us please' or 'Yeah, we're screwing you again.'

    If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, stop calling it a peacock. Yes, I know it will never happen. One can fantasize.
    • by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:30AM (#22220548)
      Was thinking along the same lines myself. It's scary stuff though. Take the PATRIOT act. It contains a lot of nasty, freedom stealing measures, extensions of government power etc etc.

      But it got through. Why? Because in a time of national panic (9/11) you wouldn't vote against an act called the Patriot act would you? You are a patriot aren't you?

      Jingoism and marketing need to die.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Equally, in Britain, who wouldn't support the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001?* There's something tragic about the way that on both sides of the Atlantic, our shared culture has lost or is losing all the things that made it great - individual liberty (and it's twin, responsibility), cultural confidence, distrust of authority and the same bullheaded stubbornness and refusal to submit that is the common factor from Hereward the Wake through to a few thousand men sitting shivering, starved and dise
        • by Nimey ( 114278 )
          Interesting! I'd never heard of Hereward the Wake before, and I like to think I'm literate in history.
      • by esper ( 11644 )
        People keep calling it "the PATRIOT Act", but there are three additional letters at the beginning: "USA". Its full, proper name is "the U SAP AT RIOT Act", which isn't really all that bad a description of it (aside from the txtspk).
    • by redelm ( 54142 )
      bills _are_ honestly named. Honest from the PoV of the dissembling namers. So just invert.

    • by durdur ( 252098 )

      I really wish they would start giving honest descriptive names to Bills

      My personal favorite:
      "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996" (aka Welfare reform). Sounds better than, say the "Throw Mom & Kids Off the Dole Act of 1996".
  • More surveillance and less oversight?

    Who could vote no?
    And after it takes effect, who would dare to vote no?
    • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:36AM (#22220600) Journal

      First they came for the first posters, but I wasn't a first poster so I didn't speak up.

      Then they came for the people with hot grit fetishes, but I wasn't into that so I didn't speak up.

      Then they came for the beowulf clusters, but I couldn't afford one so I didn't speak up.

      Then they came for the immigrants from Soviet Russia, but I wasn't from Soviet Russia so I didn't speak up.

      Then they came for the people posting lame jokes based on tired old /. cliches... by this time there was nobody left to spea&*)$)(*&@(*)@*(&%&OICARRIER LOST

  • Now we can't retract the retrospective immunity they were granted without possibly undermining the US government's promises even further... not that the telcos should have necessarily been granted it in the first place, but now there is another thing that is catching us up.
  • Belongs in the same category as retroactive prosecution and bills of attainder - things your Constitution bars, doesn't it?.
  • Not surprising (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tibor the Hun ( 143056 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:23AM (#22220514)
    Immunity for the mercennaires, immunity for the snitches, -- leaves no room to hide for the real criminals - me and you buddy.
    As those cowardly French say: eqality, liberty, and fraternity...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Actually, it's liberty, equality, fraternity. As someone states in his sig, this makes for an interesting set of priorities... too bad neither the french nor the americans seem to follow that set of priorities.
  • by n3tcat ( 664243 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:27AM (#22220532)
    Just remember, when you are reading about the fall of the American constitution that it's not because any person involved is inherently bad. Quite the opposite. Most of them are good. They love America generally speaking and want the best for their people. They have to. Power only works when you respect the people you control. When you approach each person involved in this situation and ask them just what the fuck are they thinking, they would probably tell you, and honestly at that, that they are doing the best they can for the people they represent.

    I'm not saying stupidity is an excuse. I'm just saying that the supposed "inherent evil" that people want to believe politicians all possess isn't the problem. The problem is political ignorance and an extreme distance from reality that accompanies the higher eschelons of power.

    This is also, I would imagine, why the fore-fathers imagined a country run by the stronger states, not controlled by a stronger federal government. Keep the power closer to the people, at lower levels, and the reality is much harder to miss.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mbone ( 558574 )
      Power only works when you respect the people you control.

      It is fair to say that my experience of the world does not provide much support for this notion.
    • "Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity."

      But the thing is that Congress-critters are a lot smarter than you think. Like most people (not all), they have their own self interest at heart. They may want to protect their business constituents, that's all. And gosh, you don't want someone with all that money to be donating it to someone that may not be able to help in the next election, do you?

  • Real peace at last? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by miffo.swe ( 547642 ) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {molbdeh.leinad}> on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:29AM (#22220540) Homepage Journal
    With the US going in the opposite direction of China, Iran, North Korea etc they will in a short timeframe meet halfways. We will have a world where the western world inches towards the banana republics and opressors while they go slowly towards democracy. This is interesting times to live in. One cant stop wondering if it will stop halfways or if a time down the road we westerners will be the new "muslims".
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Shakrai ( 717556 ) *

      With the US going in the opposite direction of China, Iran, North Korea ... while they go slowly towards democracy

      Uhh, yeah, I'll grant that on Iran (with the students and young moderates) and maybe even China, but North Korea???

      One cant stop wondering if it will stop halfways

      It'll come back around. Look at some of the laws that got put on the books is the US and UK during WW2. Hell, look at some of our actions [wikipedia.org] during that time. Hell, look at some of what happened after [wikipedia.org] the war.

      Point being, that in spite of all of that, it eventually came back around towards freedom and liberty. I see no reason why it won't do so again as long as we continue to fight for

    • Yep. America is spreading the hope of freedom [pacificnewscenter.com], alright.

      Mind you, not by establishing liberty abroad, but by redefining freedom at home.

  • by niceone ( 992278 ) * on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:33AM (#22220566) Journal
    It's never to late to add retroactive immunity!
    • by niceone ( 992278 ) *
      Too too too, must use preview, too too too, will the lameness filter let this trhough? too, too, too.
  • Radicals (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jamie ( 78724 ) * Works for Slashdot <jamie@slashdot.org> on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:33AM (#22220568) Journal

    I liked the comment [gpo.gov] by Sen. Bond (R-Mo.) that failure to give telecom providers retroactive immunity for any crimes they may have committed would be

    leaving them open to disclosure and exceedingly serious competitive and reputational harm, perhaps even physical retaliation by radicals who oppose our intelligence gathering.

    He is saying -- he is actually saying -- that Congress has to prevent its own laws from being applied to a corporation, because if the courts are allowed to proceed with civil lawsuits, angry mobs of disaffected citizens will storm the corporate headquarters of AT&T and Verizon and burn them to the ground because they oppose intelligence gathering. We must circumvent the legal process to soothe the hordes of Americans who are furious at the NSA. This is surely the most bizarre panem-et-circenses ever.

    Or maybe he's saying Al Qaeda sleeper cells will launch attacks on key NOCs for our internet backbone... the only thing holding them back is they're waiting for word to come that a civil lawsuit has been filed against the owning corporation and depositions have been submitted and discovery is proceeding, Allahu Akbar!

    • by bhima ( 46039 ) *
      Sounds like a good plan to me. Got a lighter?
    • Re:Radicals (Score:4, Funny)

      by roystgnr ( 4015 ) * <roystgnr@ticam.u ... edu minus distro> on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @11:11AM (#22221564) Homepage
      if the courts are allowed to proceed with civil lawsuits, angry mobs of disaffected citizens will storm the corporate headquarters of AT&T and Verizon

      Well, to be fair, the only proven way to stop a horde of radicals with pitchforks and torches is to calmly explain to them that the criminals spying on them paid millions of dollars to politicians who then let them off the hook. "You mean we have no legal recourse against those who wronged us?" the mob will say. "Well, there's hardly any point to physical retaliation unless it can be accompanied by lengthy judicial review of an accompanying civil lawsuit!"
    • by Woy ( 606550 )
      He doesn't have to say anything, the frog is cooked.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      I like Bush's logic that created this debate:
      GWB: "We must allow domestic spying immediately in order to prevent another 9/11."
      GWB (2 weeks later): "I will veto any domestic spying legislation that doesn't retroactively protect the telcos."

      In other words, protecting the telcos (retroactively!) is more important than preventing another 9/11.
  • Slogan (Score:5, Funny)

    by dlc3007 ( 570880 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:36AM (#22220592)
    AT&T -- Your world. Delivered. To the NSA.
  • by Ranger ( 1783 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:51AM (#22220732) Homepage
    If the Fuck, er, ah, Protect America Act expires, the old FISA law is still in effect. The key difference is oversight. The Democrats in the Senate will pretend to put up a brave fight then give Bush everything he wants. We got screwed when Congress rammed the PATRIOT Act I down our throats. Everything else since then has been gravy for them. Makes you wish you were a big fat corporation. After the telecoms get their immunity, other corporations will want the same deal. I hope I'm wrong. I really do.
    • by KKlaus ( 1012919 )
      Someone needs to bring back Reagan's Trust but Verify. For all the Reagan humping among republicans today, it amazes me that they can suggest with a straight face that a simple check to make sure something horrible isn't occurring behind the scenes is somehow the wrong idea. It's like no one's even heard of the difference between a democracy and a _constitutional_ democracy, and why that was the great American innovation. It's not democracy that prevents tyranny, it's the constitution. Please don't fuck
  • There is no need for it. The existing FISA laws are enough. It is only up to the government to follow FISA and do the warrant procedures properly.

    The PAA and the attempt to include retroactive immunity is a sham to destroy the constitution. If passed, then it would set a precedent that would allow any corporation to get immunity for their actions. Pure fascism.

    Examples would be pollution cleanup, consumer poisoning, and investment fraud. The mess that would result would actually destroy the corpora

  • And people say the system doesn't work! ;-)
  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @09:57AM (#22220804) Journal
    Unless you think that warrantless wiretaps are a good idea, the rest of this bill is pretty damn bad as well.
  • The *real bill* (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @10:51AM (#22221306) Homepage Journal
    Enough of this chiseling around. Someone should introduce a bill making GWB above the law, and law as well as in fact. We should spell out the super-capabilities of the Executive, essentially pointing out that we have an elected, term-limited King.

    We've just been pussy-footing around for the past 7 years. GWB is very nearly a King already, between Signing Statements and Executive Privilege. The mechanisms of tyranny are in place. The checks and balances of government are broken. So the question becomes, "Do you trust GWB?" as well as, "Do you trust the next President?"

    Name a spade a spade, and maybe people will finally wake up to the slippery slope we've been sliding down.
    • At the risk of Godwin'ing the thread, we could call this new law the "Enabling Act".
  • Fall on sword (Score:3, Insightful)

    by redelm ( 54142 ) on Tuesday January 29, 2008 @10:54AM (#22221360) Homepage
    Of course the Ds blame the Rs and vice-versa. They both want the spying, but know it's unpopular and cannot afford to be seen as supporting it in an e[rl]ection year. Yet they don't want to be seen/accused of doing anything to hamper the WOT.

    The hypocrisy of Congress cannot by overestimated. Without the moral compass that principles provide, there will always be situations where expediency is unclear.

    • Sorry, how is this tripe "insightful"?

      The Republicans want spying. It's popular with their constituents, who have been led to believe that the President^H^H^H^HCommander in Chief^H^H^H^HGod's Anointed One can direct "patriotic corporate citizens" to do anything he wants (and declare them immune from prosecution later).

      Democrats, with the exception of a few yahoos, pretty much want the rule of law to be upheld. As do many of their civil libertarian supporters. They don't want widespread domestic survei

  • Good for the gander.

    If the government wants to be able to listen in on all my communications, then I want to listen in on all of theirs. I want to know what my employees are doing.

God help those who do not help themselves. -- Wilson Mizner