Roll Call: Telecoms Allowed to Spy Illegally

I don’t see any reason to pretend this is anything other than an incredibly shitty decision to allow illegal and unconstitutional behavior.  Here’s roll call highlights:

Voting For this travesty: Obama, Lieberman, Hagel, Snowe, Specter, Webb, Warner, Hatch, Graham

Missing the bloody vote: McCain, Kennedy, Sessions

Voting Against: Clinton, Kerry, Feingold, Boxer, Schumer, Leahy

To the constituents of the Senators who missed this important vote, ouch.  To the constituents of Obama and Webb, we need to be clear this was a betrayel of trust on their part.  What a stinging dissapointment.

I want to salute those who voted against it, but at the same time I remember many of those Senators voted against the confirmation of Alito while refusing to fillibuster.  Sometimes logging an ineffectual “Nay” vote just doesn’t cut it.  The entire Senate failed us.  But they did a great job for the telecoms, so at least we can spend a little less as individuals next election season, they’ve apparently got that covered.

To be clear, I agree with Glenn completely.  McCain isn’t fooling anyone with his no show, and Obama is fucking up his own campaign:

Stanford Professor Larry Lessig has been a hard-core Obama supporter since before the primaries even began. He knows the candidate himself and has all sorts of contacts at high levels of the campaign. Yesterday, Lessig wrote a scathing criticism of what the Obama campaign has been doing over the past several weeks: “All signs point to an Obama victory this fall. If the signs are wrong, it will be because of events last month.” This is what Lessig said about the Obama campaign’s attitude towards the FISA bill:

Yet policy wonks inside the campaign sputter policy that Obama listens to and follows, again, apparently oblivious to how following that advice, when inconsistent with the positions taken in the past, just reinforces the other side’s campaign claim that Obama is just another calculating, unprincipled politician.The best evidence that they don’t get this is Telco Immunity. Obama said he would filibuster a FISA bill with Telco Immunity in it. He has now signaled he won’t. When you talk to people close to the campaign about this, they say stuff like: “Come on, who really cares about that issue? Does anyone think the left is going to vote for McCain rather than Obama? This was a hard question. We tried to get it right. And anyway, the FISA compromise in the bill was a good one.”

So the highest levels of the Obama campaign believe this bill is “a good one.” Lessig adds that the perception of Obama’s craven, nakedly calculating behavior as illustrated by his support for the FISA bill is by far the largest threat to his candidacy as it “completely undermine Obama’s signal virtue — that he’s different”:

The Obama campaign seems just blind to the fact that these flips eat away at the most important asset Obama has. It seems oblivious to the consequence of another election in which (many) Democrats aren’t deeply motivated to vote (consequence: the GOP wins).

[Emphasis Here is Mine – Dan] I can’t count the number of emails I’ve received demanding that I stop criticizing Obama for his support of this bill on the ground that such criticisms harm his chances for winning — as though it’s the fault of those who point out what Obama is doing, rather than Obama himself for completely reversing his position, abandoning his clear, prior commitments, and helping to institutionalize the destruction of the Fourth Amendment and the concealment of Bush crimes.

I still support Obama, but he needs to understand he’s making it a hell of a lot harder to do so effectively.


13 Responses

  1. Nice writeup. I wrote a little something of my own too over at

    I can’t believe something like this passed. It does away with basic privacy. How can we sit still and let crap like this happen? It is when I see stuff like this that I realize how little the politicians actually care about the people that put them there. =\

    C’est la vie. Right?

  2. […] Roll Call: Telecoms Allowed to Spy Illegally […]

  3. Thus the 4th Amendment was gutted today by cowardly Democrats and predatory Republicans.

  4. Ok, I’ve got a question, because I think I’m missing something.
    While I completely understand criticisms of this bill that argue that this is a gross violation of the Fourth Ammendment and that the government shouldn’t be engaging in this behavior, what I don’t quite understand is why granting immunity to telecoms is a big deal. Since when do we expect corporations to behave ethically and refuse to comply with legal orders? And yes, I understand that much like military personnel are obligated to disobey illegal orders, it could be argued that telecoms are obligated to disobey unconstitutional wiretaps… however that implies a moral obligation that I wouldn’t expect to come out of the boardroom. If the government is issuing these orders, shouldn’t we be protecting them?
    Which is to say that I don’t think our government should be pursuing these wiretaps, but that so long as we’re doing this I think we do have an obligation to protect the people that help us from harm that arises from that assistence.
    Again, I think I’m missing something here, so please fill me in. I’d like to share fully in your outrage.

  5. Each actor is responsible for their own actions. The Telecoms knew these acts where illegal and the law implicitly prohibits them from committing said acts? Why protect an accomplice who without his complicity the act could not be carried out in the first place?

  6. Corporations are treated as persons under the law, therefore they have many of the same rights as individuals (such as the right to sue in court) and also many of the responsibilities. Besides the most effective way to make sure a company behaves its to hit them in the back pocket.

  7. Nick,
    Whose sitting still? If we want to stop this, we need to learn how to make noise about a mistake 2, 5, 10, 20 years after it happened. The whole “that’s in the past” bullshit is designed to let anyone who avoids immediate criticism escape scot free.

    I’m not sure what to say to that, and that bothers me. I think Obama’s nuanced view of it, while understandable, was still wrong.

    Its a big deal precisely because those orders where in fact illegal. What’s at issue is an entity with access to private information about citizens broke the law when the government illegally asked it to do so. Its as severe a problem as a lawyer for the defense breaking attorney client privilege because the government attorney requested it. If the request had been a legal one, it would still be a privacy concern, but there wouldn’t be talk of prosecuting the telecoms. There’s a number of lawsuits brewing that intend to take this to the Supreme Court, and it stands a good chance of being brought to bear there.

    It isn’t a question of morality as it is about the rule of law. If a government agency breaks the law, and a person or legal entity such as a corporation is complicit, they both still broke the law and should face the consequences. There’s no “the government asked me to do it” get out of jail free card. Especially when some companies stood up to the request and refused.

    Legal wiretaps are one thing, but the barrier of entry for obtaining a wiretap is so low that for the administration to so aggressively pursue illegal wiretaps (they renewed the program frequently), in combination with their recent penchant for spying on opposition political groups, suggests an abuse of trust and power.

    However on principle the point remains that allowing people to break the law and by doing so deprive millions of Americans of their constitutional rights, we are adding a huge asterisk to the entire document. And it is that fact by itself that produces my anger on the matter.

    Good points.

  8. I was attacking Congress in general. Although I like Obama, I will not hesitate to criticize him if he does something that is wrong.

  9. Here is another reason this is a bad law.

    From Greenwald’s blog:

    As Georgetown Law Professor Marty Lederman wrote today (emphasis his):

    “The new statute permits the NSA to intercept phone calls and e-mails between the U.S. and a foreign location, without making any showing to a court and without judicial oversight, whether or not the communication has anything to do with al Qaeda — indeed, even if there is no evidence that the communication has anything to do with terrorism, or any threat to national security.”

  10. I’m sorry, it just really seems like a question of going after the foot soldiers instead of the generals. It’s not like the executives at the telecoms woke up one morning and said “hey, you know what would be fun? Let’s spy on some people…”
    Have we really gotten to the point where we expect corporations to regulate our government? It just seems like it’s focusing the blame on the wrong people.
    And check out the link… Morton Halperin’s take on FISA is worth reading.

  11. The suits are about finding out what is really going on, the telecoms are the chink in the armor. These are not mere foot soldiers, they take millions if not billions of tax payer dollars to do this.

    And considering how manipulative this goverment has been about “the law” I doubt that suing the goverment would do any good.

    Also the “following orders” bit never worked before and should not work now. It is a cop out.

  12. […] Roll Call: Telecoms Allowed to Spy Illegally […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: