ACTION NEEDED: Senate Rejects Civil Liberties Checks, Grants Telecoms Immunity

It’s shocking that it’s come to this, but the United States Senate has just passed S. 2248, giving telecommunications companies immunity from lawsuits despite their illegal provision of call information and content (that is, cooperating with warrantless eavesdropping). The only barrier now is the House of Representatives, and President Bush is placing considerable pressure on them to accede, stating he will not agree to extending the current surveillance law (which expires Saturday). Please read the New York Times piece by Eric Lichtblau for more information:

President Bush strongly urged the House of Representatives on Wednesday to quickly approve a surveillance bill passed by the Senate Tuesday evening, saying he would not agree to a further extension of the current eavesdropping law. The president effectively gave the House a deadline to act, since the current authority to intercept telephone conversations or electronic communications expires at midnight on Saturday.…

The president’s remarks came the morning after the Senate handed the White House a major victory by voting to broaden the government’s spy powers and to give legal protection to phone companies that cooperated in President Bush’s program of eavesdropping without warrants. The immunity for the phone companies is the key difference between the Senate bill and the one passed by the House last year. The president said that without that protection, American telecommunications companies would face lawsuits that could cost them billions of dollars. Without the protection, he said, “they won’t participate, they won’t help us.”…

(read full article)

This is a bad thing, and continues along a very dangerous path where our civil liberties are increasingly restricted. Why is this bad? The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects us against unreasonable search and seizure and provides that warrants should be issued based on probable cause. The rule of law is supremely important; granting retroactive immunity to people who have willfully broken the law undermines the rule of law. And placing the President or governmental organizations above the rule of law allows for unchecked power.

Please contact your representative and urge him or her not to approve retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies. It’s easy to do. You can contact your respresentative through the House of Representatives web site. If you are unsure who represents you, it’s still easy: Look up your ZIP+4 code at the United States Postal Service web site. Then, enter it at the House of Representatives web site and you will be taken to the web site of your representative. For an even easier approach, you may send a message through the ACLU’s web site (if you use this option, please modify the text as the Senate has now passed the bill in question.)

For more information about why this is bad and for arguments you can use, please see the some points from the ACLU and The Daily Awesome. Also, if you would like to see if your two senators voted for or against this disturbingly broad bill, please see the roll call at the Senate’s web site.

When are we going to draw the line? At what point do we replace fear of foreign enemies with fear of our own government?