If you don’t like the laws, ignore them. Failing that, buy some new ones.

Also via Avedon, Jay Rockefeller, Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, lies to try to get the Get Out of Jail Free Act passed for the telecom companies who helped the Bush administration illegally spy on Americans without warrants, from its beginning (it turns out that the Bush administration – and this is true, I am not making this up – actually began on some date before September 11th, 2001*).

Anyway, Glenn Greenwald** has some thoughts on the matter:

And that really brings us to the heart of the matter. Rockefeller, Hiatt and their friends plainly see themselves — along with the telecom executives and lobbyists who flatter and feast them and are their peers and colleagues and friends — as our elite vanguard. They know best, and when they break the law, it is for our own good. “Laws” are for the masses, to keep social order, to ensure that the Rockefellers and Hiatts can rule in peace and telecom executives can develop their extremely profitable relationships with government agencies without being bothered by “unfair” disruptions, such as court proceedings when they break the law.

“Punishment” for lawbreaking is not for them. Rockefeller — with his wise and genetically implanted noblesse oblige — has looked at everything in Secret and knows that there was nothing wrong here. And that’s all we need to know. We should place faith in his Judgment that there need be no further examination of what his telecom contributors did. No court proceedings or judges need look at any of this because Jay Rockefeller has adjudged, in secret with Dick Cheney, that telecoms should be protected. Just marvel at these self-loving, patronizing assurances:

Over the past year, the Senate intelligence committee has examined this issue, along with the need to bring the warrantless surveillance program within the law. We closely studied the facts, the documents and the alternatives to liability for the companies. Ultimately, we concluded that if we subject companies to lawsuits when doing so is patently unfair, we will forfeit industry as a crucial tool in our national defense. . . .

Unfortunately, immunity for communications companies has become a cause celebre for opponents of the surveillance program as a whole, and that has led to widespread confusion.

The growing anger over efforts to protect lawbreaking telecoms is nothing more than a “cause celebre.” We’re just “confused,” misdirecting our unbridled, unsophisticated rage to the poor, innocent telecoms. It is up to the Serious Rulers — Rockefeller and Hiatt and Cheney and Jamie Gorelick — to protect these executives from the wild masses who are starting to become restless with their childish, confused ideas about how telecoms shouldn’t be given license to break what we used to call “the law.”

Now why would a legislator, of all people, argue in favor of selective disregard of the law?  I can’t think of any reason.

*Although it has not yet been disproved that 9/11/01 is the date that Rudy Giuliani sprang like Athena, fully-formed, from the end of a policeman’s baton.

**Humming to myself, “Oh, no!  There goes NRO!  Go, go Glennzilla!”

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9 thoughts on “If you don’t like the laws, ignore them. Failing that, buy some new ones.

  1. Tom

    I’m with you in that Rockefeller’s motives are entirely money-driven, but I sort of see the counterpoint in the Post article and that, despite Rockefeller’s motives, immunity for the telecom companies isn’t a terrible idea. They did what they were told by the federal government. At my job, if my regulators asked for something that seemed ‘off’, we’d hem and haw a bit, but we’d probably give it to them eventually. Granted, I’m at a microcosmic level of this, but I get the deferrence.

    There’s no one in the telecom’s risk management/compliance department intimately familiar with FISA and, more importantly, the interpretation of FISA, so sure, they deferred to the government.

    If anything, I think they lacked due dilligence in covering their asses. The telecoms should’ve asked for a 2nd opinion from the Attorney General’s office, or maybe the Inspector General. Then they’d make a better case for immunity. And they shouldn’t have followed such a shady route towards trying to get immunity. But though they were monkeys that doesn’t necessarily justify suing them for doing what they thought they were supposed to do.

  2. Steve

    The answer to your question is that’s for the courts to decide, not the President. I’m no lawyer, but we could probably start with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

    The real question to ask, though, is if no one broke any laws, why are they so keen on getting this immunity?

  3. Ananth

    Wow there is so many things wrong with that I Don’t even know where to begin. One, that’s not the answer to my question at all. Courts don’t make charges, the make findings of fact based on charges and suits. Secondly, as best I can tell the fourth amendment applies to the government not companies or individuals acting as an individual. If getting that information was a violation of the 4th amendment, then sue the NSA.

    I think the reason why there is talk of immunity for the telecoms is specifically to prevent this kind of law suit and the cost associated with it, being put on the telecoms. If the government asks for something, especially if it doesn’t involve prosecuting you, you cooperate. Let others worry about whether the government should have asked for it in the first place. Unless their was some specific law that was broken it shouldn’t be an issue. As best i can google, it some law from 1934 about telecoms giving out customer calling information. Perhaps they are in violation of that. But why should individuals get to sue them over what should be a regulatory fine? That’s the real reason for the immunity. The government can be sued and information used to prosecute someone could be thrown out, but this is a way to get people not to cooperate with the government from the start because they fear a lawsuit,.

  4. Steve

    Then why not let the courts decide that the cases have no merit, and throw them out? I mean, that’s the obvious outcome, because in fact the lawsuits have no merit, right? So why is immunity even needed? Are you telling me that there will be a chilling effect because giant telecommunications conglomerates can’t possibly muster the resources to fend off the legal predations of individuals and civil liberties groups? I hope not, because that would be farcical.

    But what if the suits do have merit, and the telecom companies get hit for enormous amounts of damages? And so they really do stop cooperating with the government from the start because they fear a lawsuit. That would actually be a feature, not a bug. If giant communications conglomerates fear the coequal branches of government, if they worry that the Congress and the courts will have their collective ass if they do something as facially illegal as assist the government in eavesdropping without a warrant, that’s all to the good. If it makes telecom companies tell the secret police to pound sand until they can show a warrant, voila! The system works!

  5. Ananth

    That is naive at best Steve. It’s not that they can’t, it’s because they wouldn’t want to deal with it. Even if it’s a few hundred thousand dollars, why would a company want to deal with it for cooperating with the government. Instead, every request will go be meet with a go get a warrant.

    This has nothing to do with fearing the administration over the other branches. You are basically trying to have telecomes do what the a democratic congress cannot. And again, they aren’t being given blanket immunity for everything. They are being given immunity for giving calling data, which in it of itself does not require a warrant. Again the only reason that its an issue is because of the 1934 law which had to do anti competive business practices not privacy concerns…

    Look, you may or may not want Google to give all the terms that are searched for given to the governement, but if 1) Google makes no privacy claim, and 2) they don’t give specifics as to who searched for what, it seems to me not a voilation of my civil rights. I Look at the telecom data the same way.

  6. Eric

    I gotta agree with Ananth (at least in part). In this sue-happy world I’m not against legislation that limits lawsuits against things that aren’t illegal. Though immunity being granted by the same entity that’s requesting the info seems like a conflict of interest to me. Whether or not big business should act the part of the concerned ethical citizen and stand up to the govt, that’s a bit trickier. Unless they fear backlash would cost them money, I expect no different. I gotta blame Congress here.

  7. Steve

    In this sue-happy world I’m not against legislation that limits lawsuits against things that aren’t illegal.

    You have stated, as fact, that these things weren’t illegal. Who told you that?

    We have a mechanism for deciding whether things are legal or not, you know. They’re called courts. And I actually agree that the U.S., as a civil society, is far too litigious. The problem is that the reason this country is so litigious is because civil court is pretty much the only venue a citizen has for achieving redress if they’re wronged by an entity much more powerful than they are, such as a corporation. You wouldn’t have to sue a company for, say, polluting your drinking water if you could rely on the EPA to go after them. You wouldn’t have to sue a telecom company for violating your Constitutional rights if you could rely on, say, the Attorney General’s office to go after them. Hell, if you could realistically think, “The Feds haven’t gone after these guys, and you know there would’ve been a huge internal investigation when this all came to light if anything fishy was going on, so it must have been by-the-book,” then I think you’d be right.

    Though immunity being granted by the same entity that’s requesting the info seems like a conflict of interest to me.

    Ya think? That’s the entire purpose of having coequal branches of government to check and/or balance each other.

  8. Ananth

    I keep telling you, I am pretty sure the constitution doesn’t apply to companies. What applies to Companies are the other laws that congress state and local government make which have to comport with the constitution. As far as I can tell the only crime defined in the constitution is treason…. So again, companies and individuals not acting as part of the government cannot violate the constitution…

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