It was a long day yesterday Dick Polman Dan Froomkin parses the Current Federal Administration’s arguments for indemnifying the telecoms against their failure to obey the law.
And concludes they are pretty much a steaming pile of covering the Current Federal Administration’s anatomy:
Bush on Thursday argued that the telecommunications companies shouldn’t be punished for patriotically carrying out legal orders. And he characterized the lawsuits as being the product of “class-action plaintiffs attorneys, [who] you know — I don’t want to try to get inside their head; I suspect they see, you know, a financial gravy train.”
The Washington Post put Bush’s claim in context on Friday: “Two nonprofit groups are overseeing [the five coordinated, class-action lawsuits pending against the phone companies]: the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.” The Post also noted that “substantial damages would be awarded only if courts rule that they participated in illegal surveillance affecting millions of people, not just communications involving terrorism suspects overseas.”
As a result, the telecom lawsuits are the only remaining avenue the public has — at least until the next administration to find out what was done in their name. And immunity would be the final touch to the administration’s stone wall.
“‘I think the administration would be very loath for folks to realize that ordinary people were being surveilled,’ said Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which brought the lead lawsuit, against AT&T.”
Given Bush’s track record at trying to keep information that would embarrass him from the public, it’s reasonable to suspect that the administration’s main goal here is not to keep the program secret from terrorists — but to keep it secret from us.
On Future Cooperation
Bush has been particularly insistent that failure to grant retroactive immunity would have grave consequences going forward.
But the telecoms can’t possibly be worried about prospective immunity for following lawful orders — that’s already part of the agreed-upon legislation.
So are they actually telling the government: Unless you get us off the hook for billions in potential damages based on our past actions, we won’t follow the law — or we’ll do so, but only kicking and screaming. That doesn’t sound like a legitimate reason to help them out. In fact, it sounds like extortion.
Or are they simply saying that without retroactive immunity, they’ll feel a greater need to be absolutely sure that what they’re doing is legal? If that’s the case, that sounds like a good thing. Any company being asked to do something by the government that they have plausible reason to believe is illegal should push back. Otherwise, there are no checks and balances at work. We call that a police state.
Another possibility, I suppose, is that the telecoms are balking about doing things that we don’t even know about — and are worried that they could be sued once we find out.
At any rate, none of these points argue for retroactive immunity