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Telecom Immunity: What are the Details?

Message Kathryn Smith

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, & effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, & no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, & particularly describing the place to be searched, & the persons or things to be seized”. --4th Amendment

The Courage Campaign sent out an email on 1-30-08 stating that:

“President Bush's attempt to give retroactive immunity to telecom companies has stalled in the Senate. Again. Late last night, under intense pressure from the grassroots and netroots, Congress extended the so-called "Protect America Act" for 15 more days. New deadline: February 16.…”

We should call Congress immediately to put the pressure on to dump the telecom immunity-granting Act altogether. But before we do that, we might as well know something about the misnamed Protect America Act. Because the more we know, the more we will have to say when calling Congress.

ACLU Analysis of the Protect America Act 08/29/2007


“In effect, the government may now scoop up all communications coming into or out of the United States, as long as it is targeting no one American in particular and the program is “directed at” the foreign end of the communication.

Whether the target or not, American phone calls, emails and internet use will be recorded by our government, and without any suspicion of wrongdoing. “

It’s no accident that the ACLU calls this bill the “Police America Act” :

The “Police America Act" allows the Attorney General (AG) to issue program warrants for international calls without court review.

This new program grants the AG — not a court or independent body — the authority to issue year-long program warrants for surveillance of people reasonably believed to be outside of the United States. The secret intelligence court that has been overseeing such activities for the last thirty years is cut out of the process, leaving the executive branch unchecked….The law is silent on how to treat these American phone calls and emails — leaving the administration to decide how to collect, store, datamine and use Americans’ private communications.”

Which means that the Attorney General himself may decide what to do with YOUR calls and e-mails.

“But they have to protect us from terrorism. And we’ve got to trust someone” is a typical American response I have heard. Fill in the blanks: Create your own rebuttal to this common attitude and please write about it in letters to the editor! John Adams said it very well:

“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with the power to endanger the public liberty".

The ACLU continues its analysis of the Protect America Act:

“The “Police America Act" provides only a phony court review of secret procedures.

The Attorney General is directed to submit to the intelligence court the procedures by which this new program will operate. However, the report to the court only need detail how the program is directed at people reasonably believed to be overseas — it does not require the AG to explain how it treats Americans’ calls or emails when they are intercepted. The court will have no information about how extensive the breach of American privacy is, nor the authority to remedy it.”

Which, of course, assures utmost secrecy when abusing powers. “Go for it” : That is the sub-text of this bill and any other secrecy-assuring legislation. It’s no accident that secrecy is the cornerstone of abuse, and it’s also no accident that the Constitution was drafted by our founding fathers to prevent such abuse by means of deliberate transparency.

Here are the details concerning the so-called warrants, called “basket warrants” by the ACLU which “really aren’t warrants at all”:

Section 105B “Additional Procedure for Authorizing Certain Acquisitions”:

Subsection (a) puts the new carve out into effect as it permits the Attorney General or the DNI to issue year long program orders to obtain “foreign intelligence information from or with the assistance of a communications service provider” that “concern” a person outside of the U.S. The requirements are that (1) there are reasonable procedures in place for determining that the information concerns person outside of the U.S., (2) that it is not otherwise defined as electronic surveillance under FISA, (3) the information is gathered from a communications company, custodian or other person in control of the communication or record, (4) a significant purpose is gathering foreign intelligence information, and (5) the minimization procedures under 50 USC 1801(h) apply.

Subsection (b) states that these new orders need not even specify the “facilities, places, premises or property” at which the information collection will be directed.

This is simply an unconstitutional program warrant that doesn’t state with specificity the things to be searched or seized. Such warrants – whether issued by a court or an executive official, have long been held unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.

The flaw is exacerbated by the fact that there is no court supervision whatsoever.”

Of course many Americans understand that wiretapping is of deep concern. Alas, many Americans also don’t “get it” and are inclined to make statements such as the ones below, which have been said to me more than once or twice:

Just let them wiretap me. I have done nothing wrong, so I have nothing to hide”.

“As long as they keep me safe, I am happy. Go ahead, listen away”.

An attitude like that, of course, is exactly what gives permission to the rise of fascism in the USA, and encourages Congresspeople and The Great Dictator to fulfill their lust for power. And that’s just why it is important----terribly important----that we activists rebut those thoughts in peoples’ heads.

In a statement which I hope readers will quote in letters to the editors all over the country, Al Gore has the response to the common American belief above, in his book The Assault on Reason:

Why should we be alarmed about such eavesdropping? Recall that for the last several years of his life, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was illegally wiretapped-----one of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. Government during this period. The FBI privately called King “the most dangerous Negro leader in the country” and vowed to “take him off his pedestal”. The government even attempted to destroy his marriage and allegedly tried to blackmail him into committing suicide. This campaign continued until Dr. King’s murder. In fact, it was the discovery that the FBI had conducted a long-running and extensive campaign of secret electronic surveillance designed to infiltrate the inner workings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and to learn the most intimate details of Dr. King’s life, that helped persuade Congress to enact new statutory restrictions on wiretapping in the first place.

The result of these and other similar abuses was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was enacted previously to ensure that foreign intelligence surveillance would be presented to an impartial judge to verify that there is a sufficient cause for the surveillance.” (Emphasis added).

Though he doesn’t come out and mention the “impeachment” word, Gore’s further words in The Assault on Reason add fuel to the fires for impeachment causes:

During the period when this eavesdropping was still secret, the president went out of his way to reassure the American people on more than one occasion that, of course, judicial permission is required for any government spying on American citizens and that, of course, these constitutional safeguards were still in place.

“The president’s soothing statements turned out to be knowingly false. Moreover, as soon as this massive domestic spying program was uncovered by the press, the president not only confirmed that the story was true, but also declared that he had no intention of bringing these wholesale invasions of privacy to an end”.

It’s not only American individuals, but probably (in the long run) free speech itself, which will be adversely affected by expanded government eavesdropping. As hard as this may be for some American cross-sectors to believe, we have to learn from history: Wiretapping and surveillance in dictatorships is what, historically, has led to free speech-based arrests and even worse.

The ACLU makes concerned statements for the sake of businesses as well:

How The Protect America Act Will Affect Business (8/29/2007)

"Congress gave the government this eavesdropping authority not to listen to terrorists, but rather to collect “foreign intelligence,” which is loosely defined in FISA to mean any information that “relates to” the conduct of U.S. foreign affairs. Make no mistake, this means business.

Any businessperson can easily see the ramifications of such unwarranted surveillance. How are trade secrets going to be protected? Are negotiations regarding government contracts being conducted in good faith, or are they being compromised by intercepted communications? How are confidential relationships- employer/employee; attorney/client; journalist/source; doctor/patient; priest/penitent; husband/wife- going to be protected? How are these captured communications going to be used against Americans and their businesses? The answer is nobody knows because it’s all being conducted behind a massive cloak of secrecy. "

For the ACLU’s fact sheet on the “Protect America Act,” go to:


To sound a note of hope, the Courage Campaign writes on 1-30-08:

P.S. Your calls matter and your activism is making a difference. Just read what Senator Dodd said on the Senate floor:

"For several months now, I've listened to the building frustration over this (telecom) immunity and this administration's campaign of lawlessness. I've seen it in person, in mail, online -- the passion and eloquence of citizens who are just fed up. They've inspired me more than they know."

This should reinforce the reality to us all, that Congresspeople do take note of our concerns. At least, the good ones do. With as many of us Americans who feel depressed and disillusioned, believing that our phone calls and letters to Congress will make zero difference, Sen. Dodd’s statement should give us renewed encouragement. As should Barak Obama’s statement quoted in the Courage Campaign‘s email:

A grassroots movement of Americans has pushed this issue to the forefront. You have come together across this country. You have called upon our leaders to adhere to the Constitution. You have sent a message to the halls of power that the American people will not permit the abuse of power -- and demanded that we reclaim our core values by restoring the rule of law. It's time for Washington to hear your voices, and to act."

And the Courage Campaign adds:

As Senator Obama said above, it's because of you. You stopped the Senate, at least temporarily, from giving President Bush and the telecom giants legal cover for spying on Americans. …From Courage Campaign members flooding Senator Dianne Feinstein's phone lines to CREDO Mobile supporters filling the email boxes of swing-vote Senators to blogging communities like FireDogLake, Daily Kos and Open Left mobilizing a nation of netroots activists, our growing progressive movement is shifting power to the people.

But our work is not over, not by a longshot. Without your constant pressure, telecom immunity would now be the law of the land. Now we have 15 more days to kill it for good. “

Fortunately for us all, the extension of the Protect America Act to February 16th gives us time to hear the voice of Congress via its stalling of the vote for telecom immunity, and to act ourselves:

a) Call Congress and follow up with a hard-copy letter. Because, according to the ACLU, while phone calls and emails are good, the most effective form of communication with Congress, by far, is the hand-signed snail mail letter.

b) Letters to the editor are the most-read pages in the newspaper, according to the ACLU and Moveon.org, and are read by politicians as indicators of popular opinion. To write a letter can help to influence public opinion and stir proactivity. Here are tips for writing letters to the editor:


c) For anybody who is concerned that his/her letter to the editor will not be printed, try house letter-to-the-editor-writing parties. Because as participants read their letters out loud and get feedback from the group, the result is sure to be a cutting-edge product. Plus it could be fun, with munchies and dancing, music et al afterward!

d) Write chain letters by e-mail, asking recipients to send them out to at least ten like-minded individuals, urging them to call Congress and ask them to “Just Say No” to renewing the misnamed Protect America Act. Be sure to include notes of encouragement, such as the ones above or others of your own choosing. Depression governs our masses and to assure proactivity, encouragement is vital.

e) Don’t forget how successful house parties have been. You can organize a speaker event in your home, provide educational materials obtained from the ACLU’s and other websites, have group discussions and strategize together about ways to spread word/spawn proactivity.

f) Here is an article with tips for how to spread word even if we never have access to the Internet. Included are tips for arranging a speaker meeting, very simple strategies to spread word which every individual can do, etc:


g) Don’t forget that Qwest (Internet and phone service provider) and Credo (formerly called Working Assets, a long distance phone, mobile and cell phone company) have both pledged in writing not to wiretap without court warrant.

It’s absolutely important to spread word:

To side-step the warrantless wiretapping program is important for reasons above and

beyond protecting our privacy. Warrantless Anything, by definition, means undercutting the power of the Judiciary as a fundamental arm of government whose function is to put a “Check” on government power (and the abuse thereof).

Thus, by supporting the two telecom companies above, you are:

~Protecting free speech

~Supporting the role of the Judiciary

~Undercutting the ability of the Executive and the FBI/CIA/police to target Americans at random, ie to abuse their power

~Boycotting the corporations in cohoots with the government’s plans to topple the Constitution

~Adding your voice to the protest of the warrantless wiretapping program

~Supporting corporations with the ethic and the courage to “Just Say No” to the government’s power-mongering agenda.

~Offering hope to yourself and the discouraged masses by spreading word.


Please spread word, in e-mails and verbally.

I suggest that writing about Qwest and Credo in letters to the editor is the best thing to do for the sake of the general public. However, it might be wise to check with the companies first for permission, to assure that the Feds don‘t go after them and undermine the cause on some manufactured “legal” level, due to the public exposure.

Thank you!

Oh, and one last very important ps.

If Congress passes the Police America Act as the ACLU calls it, then we’d better start asking ourselves----and others, in letters to the editor----whether or not Congress is deliberately and calculatedly converting the USA to a dictatorship. Because power corrupts. And if so, the best thing for us all to do is to work to unseat about 75% of this Congress, no matter how daunting a task that might be. Pruning Sheers and Clean Sweep have a very hot idea: Set up qualified individuals to campaign for Congressional seats, so as to challenge the targeted seats in Congress.

Old Abe was a self-made man: How about YOU for public office? Please spread word.





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This quote summarizes the nature of my concerns and the content of personal experiences which stir my activism: "Necessity is the plea for every infringement on human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves". --Paul (more...)
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