Sunday, February 17, 2008

Telcom Companies Have Earned Their Right To Privacy

There are only so many descriptors that can be used regarding the Senate's capitulation to the Administration's request for telecommunication companies' immunity before redundancy sets in - the words lose their meaning against the face of the audacity of the crime. The adjectives become hollow. The cynicism just becomes a granted and mundane part of the cycle.

For the time being the denouement comes from the Senate, approving of retroactive immunity handed over to the telecommunication corporations who knowingly violated the law at the behest of the Bush security apparatus.

For background, be certain to watch the Frontline documentary on the subject of warrantless eavesdropping by the United States government. Titled, "Spying On The Homefront," written by Hendrick Smith and Rick Young, it exposes what was known about the program first reported on by the New York Times regarding the cooperation between the Administration and several of America's largest telecommunication companies. A tragedy for sure, corporations who were expressly forbidden from turning over customer data as written in U.S. law gave away as much information as was asked for in an apparent bid to curry favor for future government largess.

The Senate passed their amnesty program on the 12th of February. The House blocked the passage of its version of the bill and by Friday the "Protect America Act" went by the way-side. There is no reason to believe however that at a later date the Democrats in the House won't pass a bill that looks remarkably similar to the craven, cave-in Senate version when they return from a one week break, however it was a moment of partial resistance to the dread and doom peddling of President Bush and his proxies in Congress.

To whit: Something quickly picked up on by commentators and some news outlets alike was President Bush's own veto threat against a 21 day extension of the bill from the House. We were under such a grave an ominous threat (no, Bush was not talking as a press spokesman from lawsuit-fearing telecommunications companies) from terrorists, that he would go so far as to veto any extension of the law to keep the status quo working. Status quo here means the illegal gathering of data as outlawed under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. So the President chides Congress by not adopting his wished-for-legislation that he felt obliged to veto had it come to him with one small string attached.

Then what did he really need from Congress? Immunity for possible law-breaking by corporations. Congress could have bent over so that their collective craniums were behind their ankles to deliver a renewal of the Protect America Act but that wasn't even remotely close to the issue - it was the telecommunication industry blanket immunity that was/is needed by the Bush Administration.

What is glaringly obvious is that the Administration had been caught as red-handed as one can be caught, and needs a very precise legal instrument to cover up the tracks. Broad immunity for illegally spying on citizens without suspicion of wrong doing.

It never hurts to read up on our Constitution (and the Bill of Rights) at times like these.
Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

[italics by this writer]

In the link above to the Frontline documentary, a brief exchange is included of the former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez being pressed on whether there were any other programs being conducted during this time. Sen. Feinstein's direct question, "Has the President ever invoked this authority with respect to any activity other than the program we are discussing, the NSA Surveillance Program," to which AG Gonzalez responded, "Senator, I am not comfortable going down the road of saying 'yes' or 'no' as to what the President has or has not authorized." If there are other programs or spying techniques being used, they are not to be talked about in an open Senate hearing, this is for certain.

For the next year at least no one can be absolutely certain that Big Brother isn't watching, listening, or sifting through one's house, papers, or effects (and that would include one's communications).

Welcome to the police state. Hold your number up and look straight at the camera please. Now to the left. Thank you.