Illegal Surveillance State or Rule of Law

October 16th, 2007  |  Published in etc

Did you know your representatives in Congress are considering legislation that would let telecommunications companies off the hook for abetting a massive illegal wiretap operation?

This isn’t about the Orwellian implications of supermarket loyalty cards or egregious terms of service from your ISP. It’s about the government’s spy agencies deciding existing laws didn’t matter, then implementing a program they knew to be illegal. The telecommunications companies went along with it, and it’s increasingly apparent they did so not out of some kind of post-9/11 patriotism, but because they wanted lucrative government contracts elsewhere: They’ve been acquiescing to this illegal program since President Bush took office.

Now that Congress has asked for accountability — now that your representatives have asked for accountability — the telecommunications companies are refusing to provide information and demanding that anything illegal they did be shielded from legal scrutiny. If the telecommunications companies and NSA get their way, the idea that we live under the rule of law — not executive fiat — will be seriously undermined.

This isn’t about an abstract extension of the Bill of Rights, it’s not about some conception of government informed by background reading on post-Enlightenment thinking. It’s about an attack on Constitutionally hard-wired processes in which the legislative branch makes laws the executive branch is compelled to enforce and obey.

If you want links to people and blogs who are providing original analysis, here are a few:

  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing AT&T:

The EFF lawsuit arose from news reports in December 2005, which first revealed that the NSA has been intercepting Americans’ phone calls and Internet communications without any court oversight and in violation of the privacy safeguards established by Congress and the U.S. Constitution. This surveillance program, purportedly authorized by the President at least as early as 2001, apparently intercepts and analyzes the phone and Internet communications of millions of ordinary Americans.

But the government did not act—and is not acting—alone. EFF’s lawsuit alleges that AT&T has given the NSA unchecked backdoor access to its communications network and its record databases. On behalf of a nationwide class of AT&T customers, EFF is suing to stop this illegal conduct and hold AT&T responsible for violating the law and the fundamental freedoms of the American public.

  • Wired has an excellent blog, “Threat Level,” that tracks this issue closely.

  • Glenn Greenwald also keeps close tabs on the story, providing detailed readings of the headlines from his perspective as a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator.

On Open Networks Today, I’ve been jogging behind this story. These links will provide direct access to some of what the people and blogs listed above have been saying:

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