Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Posts Tagged ‘telecoms

Excellent question for Pelosi

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From Laura Rozen at War and Piece:

Here’s a question for Pelosi at her press conference today:

Reports of the newest FISA compromise indicate that, on telecom immunity, a federal court would be compelled to grant the telecoms immunity if there was substantial evidence that the Bush administration assured them that the warrantless surveillance program was legal. Doesn’t that actually endorse and extend to private actors the Nixonian view that if the president says it’s legal, it’s legal, regardless of what the law says and the Constitution says? Wouldn’t that set an awful precedent that an administration could get private actors to do whatever they wanted including breaking the law?

Written by Leisureguy

19 June 2008 at 10:29 am

Telecoms and immunity for lawbreakers

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Good point:

You’d think anyone who remembered J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and Nixon’s CIA, the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 — let alone the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution — might be concerned about the government illegally snooping on Americans. But executives at the nation’s biggest telecoms — AT&T, Verizon, and others — didn’t blink an eye when the National Security Agency came knocking. You want records of domestic phone calls? Sure, help yourself! Emails? Yeah, we got tons. They’re yours!

When word of this leaked out and the companies got sued by Americans who didn’t particularly like the idea of government rummaging through everything they said or wrote, the telecoms went to Congress and complained it wasn’t their fault. They deserve immunity from such lawsuits, they argue. They were only following orders. Congress is about to decide whether their argument holds water. It doesn’t.

Only following orders? What if the government told telecoms to use their technologies to spy on American bedrooms, or turn over our bank accounts, or our photographs, home videos, anything else we store on computers or transmit through cables or over the Internet? The “only following orders” excuse would make telecoms extensions of our spy agencies.

Corporate executives have a duty to disobey government orders when they have reason to believe those orders are illegal or unconstitutional — and make the government go to court to get what it wants. The duty to refuse is especially important when it comes to the nation’s telecoms, whose technological reach is extending deeper and deeper into our private lives.

Sure, there’s a delicate balance between fighting terrorism and protecting civil liberties. But that’s for courts to decide – not spy agencies and not telecom executives. If in doubt, the telecoms can go to the special courts set up precisely to oversee this balance, and get a declaratory judgment. Yet the only way to keep pressure on them to do this and not become agents of our spy agencies is to continue to allow Americans to sue them for violating their legal rights.

Written by Leisureguy

3 December 2007 at 1:41 pm

More on telecoms and illegal surveillance

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From The Anonymous Liberal:

Did the Senate Intelligence Committee Disclose Key Evidence of Telecom Illegality?

It sure looks like it. Empty Wheel highlights this important and largely overlooked passage from the Senate Intelligence Committee report that accompanied its proposed FISA bill:

The Committee can say, however, that beginning soon after September 11, 2001, the Executive branch provided written requests or directives to U.S. electronic communication service providers to obtain their assistance with communications intelligence activities that had been authorized by the President.

The Committee has reviewed all of the relevant correspondence. The letters were provided to electronic communication service providers at regular intervals. All of the letters stated that the activities had been authorized by the President. All of the letters also stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Attorney General, except for one letter that covered a period of less than sixty days. That letter, which like all the others stated that the activities had been authorized by the President, stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Counsel to the President. [my emphasis].

In other words, one of the certifications provided to the telecoms (presumably the one issued during the period in 2004 when James Comey refused to sign off on the program) was signed not by the Attorney General, but by then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales.

Why does that matter? Well, as Empty Wheel explains, under the current law, 18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(a)(ii), telecommunications providers are permitted to provide information and assistance to the government only if they are provided with:

(A) a court order directing such assistance signed by the authorizing judge, or

(B) a certification in writing by a person specified in section 2518 (7) of this title or the Attorney General of the United States that no warrant or court order is required by law, that all statutory requirements have been met, and that the specified assistance is required

And as you’ve probably already guessed, the White House Counsel is not one of the people specified in section 2518(7), which includes the Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, and various state law enforcement officials in the case of a state-related investigation.

Why couldn’t the Bush administration get the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, or the Associate Attorney General to sign the certification? Because they all thought the program was illegal and were prepared to resign over it. That’s why.

So, unable to get any of the proper people to re-certify the program, the Bush administration appears to have simply provided the telecoms with a facially defective certification. That means that for at least a period of 60 days, the telecoms were providing information to the government without a court order and without a valid certification. Those who have been following this issue closely have long suspected that this was the case, but the Senate Intelligence Committee has confirmed it in no uncertain terms (though nowhere in the report does the committee acknowledge the significance of this fact).

I doubt that the significance of this disclosure was lost on the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the various lawsuits, however. As I write this, they are undoubtedly discussing how best to utilize this new and valuable piece of evidence.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 2:44 pm

Business Week on Net Neutrality

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Actually, it’s a columnist in Business Week, Stephen Wildstrom. But he has an excellent point: the free market doesn’t cut it. Government regulation is required.

A bit over a year ago, I wrote a column arguing that innovation on the Internet would be best served if the government mostly kept its hands off. I’ve changed my mind. The behavior of the top telecommunications companies, especially Verizon Communications and AT&T, has convinced me that more government involvement is needed to keep communications free of corporate interference.

The incident that swayed me was a decision in September by Verizon Wireless, majority owned by Verizon Communications, to block Naral Pro-Choice America from using its system to send text-message alerts to supporters. Verizon, which had cited a policy barring distribution of content that “may be seen as controversial or unsavory,” quickly backed down after a public outcry. But, a spokesperson says, Verizon “reserves the right to deny other programs in the future.”

Verizon has that right under current law. It may not interfere with voice messages, but “common carrier” requirements do not apply to any form of text or data transmission. They should.

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Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2007 at 12:53 pm

Fred Hiatt at the Washington Post: idiot

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Glenn Greenwald explains:

Of all the dumb and dishonest arguments in favor of telecom amnesty — and there are many — the dumbest and most dishonest is that it is unfair to subject telecoms to the “high costs” of defending against these lawsuits. It should come as no surprise, then, that this is the principal argument The Washington Post‘s Fred Hiatt advances today in his latest call for telecom amnesty:

As we have said, we do not believe that these companies should be held hostage to costly litigation in what is essentially a complaint about administration activities.

In 2005, the total revenue of Verizon — from telephone services alone — was $75 billion. ATT’s total 2006 revenue was $63 billion. Whatever the “costs” of defending these lawsuits are, it is a minscule — really undetectable — amount to these companies. Whatever the telecoms’ motives are in wanting amnesty for their lawbreaking, being relieved from “costly litigation” has nothing to do with it. Trite pseudo-populist rhetoric about the “high costs” of litigation might work when it comes to lawsuits against small businesses or individuals. There, attorneys fees and other expenses really do make lawsuits expensive to defend. But they still have to go to court to prove they did nothing wrong. That is what it means to live under “the rule of law.”

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Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2007 at 11:58 am

Stopping telecom amnesty

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Glenn Greenwald has a good column:

Several developments over the past few days demonstrate real progress in the effort to stop telecom amnesty. This Newsweek article by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball details the efforts triggered by bloggers, along with MoveOn, to stop the bill, led by Chris Dodd:

A White House campaign to win quick passage of a major surveillance bill has hit a new snag in recent days: four Democratic presidential candidates have signaled their intention to oppose the measure as it is currently written. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut took the lead last week when he vowed to filibuster a version of the bill overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee. . . . In a statement blasting the program as “unconscionable,” Dodd said he would “do everything in my power to stop Congress from shielding this president’s agenda of secrecy, deception, and blatant unlawfulness.”

No sooner had Dodd issued his statement than MoveOn.org — along with leading liberal bloggers such as DailyKos — launched their own campaign to pressure other Democratic presidential candidates to commit to the same position. In mass e-mails, MoveOn urged its supporters to call other Democratic senators running for president and encourage them to back a filibuster of the bill. Dodd’s campaign reported $200,000 in new donations in the first 36 hours after he issued his filibuster threat.

By Wednesday, at least two other candidates — Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden — had joined with Dodd in pledging to oppose any surveillance bill that includes immunity for the telecoms. Sen. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front runner, released a more equivocal statement, saying she was “troubled by the concerns” raised about the bill and pledging to “study it very hard.” The statement continued: “As matters stand now, I could not support it and I would support a filibuster absent additional information coming forward that would convince me differently.”

That all demonstrates emerging and increasingly effective anti-amnesty positions from everyone in the Democratic field — except one. As Matt Stoller noted, even the New York Daily News, in the course of criticizing efforts to derail telecom amnesty, mocked Clinton for her nonsensical statement about whether she would filibuster. Demonstrating the increasing significance of these efforts, Chris Dodd has now been invited to appear this Sunday on Meet the Press, where he will be the only guest for the entire hour. His stance in defending the Constitution generally, and his specific efforts to stop telecom amnesty and warrantless eavesdropping, will undoubtedly be a major topic (see Dodd’s superb Senate floor speech this week on these issues here).

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Written by Leisureguy

27 October 2007 at 11:55 am

Jay Rockefeller: sells his vote cheap

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I blogged yesterday about how Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) took $40,000 from two telecoms, and subsequently had his committee include in the FISA bill wholesale immunity for telecoms for their lawbreaking, whatever it might have been. (It’s still not known exactly what they did, but that’s okay with Jay: he got his $40,000.)

Now his spokesperson of course denied the quid pro quo:

“Any suggestion that Senator Rockefeller would make policy decisions based on campaign contributions is patently false,” Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for him, said. “He made his decision to support limited immunity based on the Intelligence Committee’s careful review of the situation and our national security interests.”

So Wendy says that the fact that Jay got $40,000 and then went along with what the donors wanted is just a coincidence. Really, the two are not connected.

But that’s stupid, right? It’s quite obvious that the telecoms don’t hand out $40K for nothing. They wanted something for that money, and Jay delivered. The connection is patently obvious. And the telecoms got a terrific bargain: $40K is a less than a drop in the bucket for those businesses. Of course, it was quite a nice windfall for Jay. And he did show his appreciation in the way he worked for them.

This just totally stinks. How can his office deny the connection? It’s as obvious as shit on a plate.

UPDATE: BTW, isn’t it obvious that any legislator (or judge, in those states where judges run for election) would be stark mad to accept large donations from parties who will be affected by decisions currently being considered by the legislator (or judge)? Taking any such donation is simply seeking trouble—or, more to the point, seeking cash in exchange for votes/decisions.

Written by Leisureguy

24 October 2007 at 11:48 am

Posted in Business, Congress, Democrats

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Is Reid really going to ignore Senator Dodd’s hold?

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I can’t believe this. Reid—well, AT&T is one of the top 20 contributors to Read, so maybe he’s for sale after all. But Reid apparently is simply going to ignore Dodd’s hold on the terrible FISA bill (which, I admit, was supported by one of my own Senators, Dianne Feinstein, the Lieberman of the Democratic Party) and push the bill through. Obviously, the telecoms have spent a lot of money to get immunity for their crimes. This is not what I expected from the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party needs a thorough housecleaning.

Glenn Greenwald has more.

And this also is good:

Every now and then, a right-wing pundit says something that illustrates the underlying mentality of their movement so vividly that it is worth pausing and briefly examining. In responding to one of my posts on telecom amnesty, The Weekly Standard‘s Michael Goldfarb explains the obligations of patriotic corporate citizens in America:

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Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2007 at 1:00 pm

The Rule of Law

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Do we have it, or do we not? Glenn Greenwald sees many who want the US not to have the rule of law. Certainly Bush feels that way—that’s why he removed the prison time from Scooter Libby’s sentence (but did nothing about the guidelines that resulted in that prison time, so that everyone else convicted under the same circumstances will have to serve their prison time).

The Washington Post‘s Editorial Page, in the establishment-defending form of Fred Hiatt, today became but the latest Beltway appendage to urge the enactment of a special law providing amnesty to our nation’s poor, put-upon, lawbreaking telecoms:

There is one major area of disagreement between the administration and House Democrats where we think the administration has the better of the argument: the question of whether telecommunications companies that provided information to the government without court orders should be given retroactive immunity from being sued. House Democrats are understandably reluctant to grant that wholesale protection without understanding exactly what conduct they are shielding, and the administration has balked at providing such information. But the telecommunications providers seem to us to have been acting as patriotic corporate citizens in a difficult and uncharted environment.

Let’s leave to the side Hiatt’s inane claim that these telecoms, in actively enabling the Bush administration to spy on their customers in violation of the law, were motivated by the pure and upstanding desire to be “patriotic corporate citizens” — rather than, say, the desire to obtain extremely lucrative government contracts which would likely have been unavailable had they refused to break the law. Leave to the side the fact that actual “patriotism” would have led these telecoms to adhere to the surveillance and privacy laws enacted by the American people through their Congress in accordance with the U.S. Constitution — as a handful of actual patriotic telecoms apparently did — rather than submit to the illegal demands of the President. Further leave to the side that these telecoms did not merely allow warrantless surveillance on their customers in the hectic and “confused” days or weeks after 9/11, but for years. Further leave to the side the fact that, as Hiatt’s own newspaper just reported yesterday, the desire for warrantless eavesdropping capabilities seemed to be on the Bush agenda well before 9/11.

And finally ignore the fact that Hiatt is defending the telecom’s good faith even though, as he implicitly acknowledges, he has no idea what they actually did, because it is all still Top Secret and we are barred from knowing what happened here. For all those reasons, Hiatt’s claim on behalf of the telecoms that they broke the law for “patriotic” reasons is so frivolous as to insult the intelligence of his readers, but — more importantly — it is also completely irrelevant.

There is no such thing as a “patriotism exception” to the laws that we pass. It is not a defense to illegal behavior to say that one violated the law for “patriotic” reasons. That was Oliver North’s defense to Congress when he proudly admitted breaking multiple federal laws. And it is the same “defense” that people like North have been making to justify Bush’s violations of our surveillance laws — what we call “felonies” — in spying on Americans without warrants.

By definition, the “rule of law” does not exist if government officials and entities with influential Beltway lobbyists can run around breaking the law whenever they decide that there are good reasons for doing so. The bedrock principle of the “rule of law” is that the law applies equally to everyone, even to those who occupy Important Positions in Fred Hiatt’s social, economic and political circles and who therefore act with the most elevated of motives.

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Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2007 at 9:38 am

Telecom immunity: why it’s a bad idea

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Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2007 at 3:03 pm

Qwest CEO: the surveillance started before 9/11

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Interesting: according to the former Qwest CEO, who refused to participate, the illegal domestic surveillance started up months before 9/11. Now why exactly should we give the telecoms immunity from any crimes they committed? Because they have lots of money? The Washington Post:

 A former Qwest Communications International executive, appealing a conviction for insider trading, has alleged that the government withdrew opportunities for contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars after Qwest refused to participate in an unidentified National Security Agency program that the company thought might be illegal.

Former chief executive Joseph P. Nacchio, convicted in April of 19 counts of insider trading, said the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to court documents unsealed in Denver this week.

Details about the alleged NSA program have been redacted from the documents, but Nacchio’s lawyer said last year that the NSA had approached the company about participating in a warrantless surveillance program to gather information about Americans’ phone records.

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Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2007 at 8:14 am

Protecting the telecoms at all costs

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Another great Greenwald piece, and another small extract (and again, the whole thing is definitely worth reading):

Here is what David Ignatius said two weeks ago when demanding that Congressional Democrats give the administration what it wants and stop questioning Mike McConnell:

People who try to occupy a middle ground in these debates find that it doesn’t exist. That reality confounded Gen. David Petraeus this month. . . . . Now the same meat grinder is devouring Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence. He’s a career military intelligence officer who ran the National Security Agency under President Bill Clinton. As near as I can tell, the only ax he has to grind is catching terrorists. But in the vortex of Washington politics, he has become a partisan figure. An article last week in The Hill newspaper, headlined “Democrats question credibility, consistency of DNI McConnell,” itemized his misstatements and supposed flip-flops as if he were running for office.

Absolutely. Why would anyone dare to suggest that our Director of National Intelligence is anything but pure in his motives and deserving of the blindest of faith in his statements? Just because he got caught manipulating and outright lying to Congress by agreeing with Joe Lieberman that the new FISA law was instrumental in disrupting a German terrorist plot, even though that was a complete fabrication, is hardly any reason to question this Good, Decent, Responsible, Serious Leader. And that is to say nothing of his hysterical and incomparably manipulative shrieking back in August that a Terrorist Attack was about to happen at the Capitol and Congress had better pass the FISA law they want or else blood would be on their hands. And then, more importantly still, there is the fact that McConnell has more extensive private sector connections than virtually anyone in the country to the very telecommunication companies for which he is now demanding amnesty, and he has spent the last decade working on behalf of the very companies who would be the prime beneficiaries of this extraordinary legislative gift. In a healthily functioning political system, McConnell would be disqualified from opining on an amnesty bill for companies to which he is so closely tied.

But to our Beltway opinion-makers, the opposite is true — McConnell is the Unimpeachable Source, and if he decrees that National Security requires Amnesty for his friends and colleagues in the telcom industry, then no decent or serious person will question that. Or else they will have Blood on Their Hands.

UPDATE III: I just learned that the FISA bill cooked up by Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s Senate Intelligence Committee does contain full retroactive amnesty for telecoms. Here is a list of all registered Verizon lobbyists, and here is a partial list of some of the lobbying firms working on behalf of AT&T. AT&T was the fifth largest contributor to Rockefeller’s last campaign, followed by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association in Sixth place, Bell South in Ninth Place, and Verizon was in the top 20.

It’s basically legalized bribery and influence peddling — they pour money into the campaign coffers of these Senators from both parties, pay former government officials such as Jamie Gorelick to help them, and then these Senators jump and pass laws providing that they will receive amnesty for serious felonies. And Joe Klein and David Ignatius are all for it.

Written by Leisureguy

11 October 2007 at 3:15 pm

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