Thursday, March 06, 2008

What's the big deal about telecom immunity?

“One sunny day in San Francisco two winters ago, a retired telecommunications technician with an understandable distrust of telephones stepped off a BART train after a short but fateful ride. His name was Mark Klein, and his destination was a red brick office building in an untouristed part of the city dominated by low-rise warehouses. There he met with a small group of maverick, tech-savvy lawyers called the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“For Klein, then 60, this trip was a long time coming. As a veteran telecommunications technician and computer network associate at AT&T, he had in recent years obtained several company documents that described in specific, technical terms a secret room he says the National Security Agency (NSA) had set up on the sixth floor of an AT&T building downtown. Klein entered the room itself only once, and that was just for a couple of minutes. (Generally, people needed a security clearance to gain access.) However, just one floor above, he managed the Internet-traffic room to which it was electronically connected. Through that work, the documents he gathered, and conversations he had with other employees, Klein came to understand that his employer was colluding with the federal government to siphon a copy of billions of domestic Internet communications into that secret room, every second of every day. And all without a warrant. ‘Even Nixon didn't go that far,’ Klein thought. As he later told MSNBC, the situation made him think of George Orwell's classic 1984. ‘Here I was, being forced to connect the Big Brother machine.’ However, after complaining to a supervisor, with no result, he did not pursue the matter. He retired in 2004.” [emphasis mine] "Up Against Big Brother - The Electronic Frontier Foundation Takes on Warrantless Surveillance," February, 2007, California Lawyer Magazine.

The House is likely to capitulate and give AT&T and other telecom providers retroactive immunity. Once granted, it’s final. Mark Klein won’t be testifying in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against AT&T. The suit will be dismissed.

Sometimes I feel like giving up. Yet one more time, I will call my Congressional representative, toll free 800-828-0498, 800-614-2803 or 866-340-9281 and urge him vote no to letting the telecoms off the hook for knowingly disregarding the law to wiretap millions of ordinary U.S. citizens. When the leaders of this country advise private individuals and corporations to ignore the law and they cooperate with no consequences, we have a police state.

Recommended reading:

1. If you are concerned about whether or not it’s fair to hold the telecoms responsible for warrantless eavesdropping, I highly recommend Dan Froomkin’s March 3rd post, "Why Immunity Matters."

2. For background on how far this country has moved toward secret surveillance, Glenn Greenwald’s March 2nd post, "The 'liberal' position on the Surveillance State."

3. On the upcoming vote on telecom immunity, Glenn Greenwald’s March 3rd post, "House Democratic leadership: not just complicit but also self-destructive."

(photo The Coming New World Order)

1 comment:

the democratic activist said...

After I got the lump out of my throat, I called Pelosi, Hoyer, and Reyes.

Pelosi's staff wouldn't tell me her position on caving in to Bush yet again and allowing immunity for criminal telecoms. Hoyers staff told me he was against "blanket immunity," which means he's for immunity of some kind. Reyes's staff said he was "uncommitted." It IS discouraging.

Just saw the PBS special on Pete Seger. It was evident that even he is discouraged much of the time, yet he looks into the faces of children he sings for, and finds renewed hope and reason to keep singing.

We SHALL overcome, someday. It may not be in this life, but nevertheless we SHALL overcome someday. If one believes that, it follows that continued effort, even without visible result, is necessary and in fact productive.

Calls to Pelosi, Hoyer, and Reyes demanding NO IMMUNITY FOR CRIMINAL TELECOMS are appropriate ... now, and for the forseeable future.