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the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Spying on Us

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial

The thought that telecommunications companies might be granted retroactive immunity from lawsuits for cooperating with the government's warrantless wiretapping programs ought to keep lawmakers up at night.

On Monday, the telecom companies won an early round (which was later postponed) to make them accountable for violating the privacy of their customers without so much as alerting them to what was being done. That's when, for reasons that defy sense and conscience, lawmakers voted to advance the bill, which is meant to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The act would protect telecoms from having to answer to their wronged customers in court.

Only 10 voted to halt the bill -- among them Sen. Maria Cantwell -- which leads us to believe that only few senators are able to see what is plainly put before them. According to The New York Times, some of those who voted to advance the bill said they did so in order to shoot it down later. Talk about convoluted strategey.

"For the last six years, our largest telecommunications companies have been spying on their own American customers," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, who led the effort to kill the bill. "Secretly and without a warrant, they delivered to the federal government the private, domestic communications records of millions of Americans -- records this administration has compiled into a data base of enormous scale and scope." He also added that he's never seen a president with "a contempt for the rule of law equal to this."

Supporters of the dodgy electronic surveillance program say it's necessary for national security. Oh sure. We couldn't possibly have security in the Fatherland/Homeland without giving up your rights. Consider that, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the software used by the FBI to spy on phone calls intercepted 27,728,675 calls (or "sessions") in 2006. And how many FISA court orders did the FBI get in the same year? Just 2,176, which means that one court order can cover a lot of ground. Just think of what they're doing without the court orders.

As it turned out, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yanked the bill later on Monday, but the fight is far from over. It's merely delayed. With telecoms looking to get off the hook, a government anxious to spy with impunity and a public and a president who has vowed to veto any bill that doesn't protect the telecom companies from lawsuits, lawmakers have a moral obligation to fight to protect the rights of American citizens. Doing any less amounts to tossing us to the wolves.

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