Kill Telco Immunity Clause

It's odd, really, to hear Republicans on Capitol Hill extol the virtues of "original intent" doctrines for interpreting the U.S. Constitution. Especially when they're so busy subverting the original intent of our Founding Fathers this week in legislation.

"Those who sacrifice liberty to security deserve neither," said Benjamin Franklin, one of those Founding Fathers, clearly expressing a Big Idea. The antithesis of that Big Idea is the Protect America Act of 2008, the Orwellian-named legislation that provides for continued warrantless wiretapping by the NSA, and that—if House Republicans and the White House have their way—provides retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that provided the government with customer information after Sept. 11, 2001.

Why? To "fight the terrorists," of course.

So, warrantless wiretapping isn't enough. The Bush administration also doesn't want the telcos to have to face their day in court over whether they should have protected their customers against a government hell-bent to usurp their right to privacy.

Anyone else find this logic disconcerting? Isn't this legislation completely antithetical to the notion of a free society? At what point do we remember why this country was founded in the first place and then encourage our elected officials to vote down this "Just Trust Us, We're From the Government" legislation?

Many of us would agree that the Bush administration has made bad choices in the name of "fighting the terrorists." Would we now give that same government (or the next one) the power to eavesdrop on its own citizens without even the formality of a secret court? And will we retroactively absolve them of their next unconstitutional power grab?

The truth is that lawsuits against the telcos are the public's only remaining defense in this particular case of a government overstepping its authority. Those lawsuits will not break the telcos financially, but they will force the companies to answer for behavior that is unbecoming for a United States corporation.

Even if the government asks you to do something illegal, you shouldn't just do it. You should at least ask to see the warrant.

The Senate needs to kill the telco immunity clause in the Protect America Act (and then it should kill the act itself). Call Thad Cochran (who voted for the act last time around) at (202) 224-5054 and Roger Wicker at (202) 224-6253 or visit http://www.senate.gov for e-mail information and tell them you'd like them to side with Ben Franklin on this one.


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