americans will die if we can’t spy on them

Sure, he used the word “fascist,” which I know turns a few of you off, but Keith Olbermann, I thought, did a great job last night explaining the politics behind the current FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) debate. The image here is a still from his report. It features a quote from Senator Ted Kennedy, which kind of gets to the heart of the matter.

Bush said that without the immediate renewal of FISA, American lives would be lost. Democrats agreed to renew the legislation. Their only significant stipulation was that the clause concerning telecom immunity first had to be removed. The administration said no. You could read that one of two ways. Either Bush, as Kennedy suggests, cares more about keeping American phone companies out of court than he does about keeping American citizens safe, or the whole thing about American lives hanging in the balance was bullshit from the start… Of course, there’s another possibility – that both things are true.

The bottom line is that the widespread warrantless tapping of our phones does not make us safer. And, more importantly, it degrades what it is that has always set our nation apart… Yes, by all means, we should tap the phones of suspected terrorists, but we shouldn’t violate the Bill of Rights to do it. The telecommunications companies that gave in to pressure from the Bush administration, and provided access to our private communications, should not be allowed to just walk away as though they did nothing wrong.

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  1. egpenet
    Posted February 15, 2008 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    As I undersdtand it …

    There is NO backlog in the FISA Court.

    Current FISA law and current taps issued under that law ALREADY fully protect the cooperating telecoms/telcos.

    Warrantless taps are illegal.

    There is NO NEED to tap WITHOUT a warrant. Need one, apply, get one. The law even allows applications after the fact, within reason.

    Any telecom/telco who cooperates/cooperated in a warrantless tap is breaking/broke the law and is liable to DOJ prosecution and/or civil suit. That’s the law.

  2. Posted February 16, 2008 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Well, Ed,

    They will only be liable if the current legislation granting immunity is not passed.

    The Bush administration wants immunity because presumably said immunity for telecoms would extend to the administration which requested the warrantless taps.

  3. egpenet
    Posted February 16, 2008 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    ‘Tis true, ’tis pity. And pity ’tis, ’tis true. (From: The William Shakespeare Department of Redundancy Department)

  4. Dirtgrain
    Posted February 16, 2008 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I love that Ted Kennedy quotation. Thanks for that.

  5. Ol' E Cross
    Posted February 16, 2008 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Okay. Maybe this is overly cynical and half-baked. But, it seems Democrats are willing to pass this law allowing unConstitutional intrusions into our privacy as long as we’re allowed to sue the companies they grant tacit permission to intrude?

    Really?! What the fuck? The only issue for the alleged party of lawyers is whether lawyers have the right to sue communication companies? If Bush says we can sue, Democrats will then pass this piece of crap? Basically, Republicans and Democrats can agree to tap our lines and the only issue dividing them is whether potential lawsuits favors special business or legal interests?

    The debate isn’t about the Constitution, but the courtroom?

    Coming soon: Democrats agree to pass Republican legislation restricting the rights of minorities to vote as long as minorities can sue Diebold for damages.

    Am I missing something?

  6. mark
    Posted February 16, 2008 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    I think there are quite a few of us who feel as though any and all warrentless spying on American citizens is wrong, illegal, ineffective and descructive to our democratic institutions. The phone company immunity is just the most egregious aspect of it. It illustrates, at least to me, that the administration doesn’t just not care about our rights, but will do whatever it takes to protect companies from harm.

  7. MaryD
    Posted February 17, 2008 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Hurray for the house, for leaving this bad bill and going home. And shame on Stabenaw for voting for it.

  8. Posted February 17, 2008 at 2:15 pm | Permalink


    I’m not sure, but yeah I think you are missing something. I’m ok with the government tapping our telephones as long as they have good reason as outlined in a warrant.

    The only time telecoms should be sued is if they eavesdrop on our communications without a warrant.

    In other words, if the law enforcement (the government) has a legitimate suspicion of wrong doing by some one, then a warrant should be obtained to search (tap) that person. Of course a reasonable case can be made for tapping the phone conversations of a suspected radical from another country when that conversation is with someone in the USA. What do you suppose such a person is talking about on the phone anyway?

    But if the government and/or a telecom eavesdrop on someone without a warrant and without therefore without any reasonable reason, and that person can show damage from that eavesdropping, then absolutely that person should be able to sue.

  9. Ol' E Cross
    Posted February 19, 2008 at 12:55 am | Permalink


    I guess I’m just frustrated, again, because I’ve been led to believe (I’m easily led) that the issue with this has been whether Constitutional rights are being violated.

    I find it rather disheartening that Dems will ignore the Constitutional issues they’ve been claiming are wrong (on CNN, at least) as long as their constituents can sue companies who honor spurious warrants and Repubs will only pass it if their constituents are protected from lawsuits.

    My understanding is, the gov has the warrants, but the legality of the warrants is in question and telcoms want assurance that if the warrants turn out, some day (say next Nov.), to be illegal, they’ll be protected from lawsuits on them for honoring gov. sanctioned warrants.

    I’m not in the CIA. I don’t have anything informed to say on the merits of this wiretapping, but, on face value, it would seem neither party has anything real to say either. I’m just further disheartened that the issue, which allegedly either involves either the protection of American lives or the protection of the U.S. Constitution, has seemingly come down to a debate over who can sue who.

  10. Robert
    Posted February 19, 2008 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Ol’E Cross,

    I think it might be akin to the feds going after Capone on tax evasion charges. It’s the only approach they think might stick. It could also be a sort of “foot in the door” deal.

    See…I can sometimes do the optomism thing.

  11. Robert
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Sure, crime statistics are on the rise. But more importantly, the number of offences committed by guys with Arabic sounding names (aka “terrorist attacks”) has been reduced significantly.

    In related news, the number of names on the no-fly list has now reached eight hundred thousand. Authorities have identified the entire state of South Dakota as a terrorist sleeper cell. When asked for comment, neighboring North Dakota said, “We always thought they acted sort of suspicious.”

  12. Ol' E Cross
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 10:00 pm | Permalink


    I find your ability to mine old posts with new comments absolutely magical. I really do. That’s all I’m here to say.

  13. mark
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    I agree with OEC. I really like the fact that you’re out there, keeping these old threads alive. I’m picturing you as a poorly paid (but handsome) home healthcare worker, comforting the old posts, encouraging them to keep going. Beating them with a stick to get them a little further up the track before taking them off and shooting them in a field. (That is what home healthcare workers do, right?)

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