Newsweek's top story today exposes the desperation of the telecommunications companies in light of cases like EFF's class-action lawsuit against AT&T, which accuses the telecom giant of assisting in the illegal surveillance of millions of Americans. The telecoms and the Administration are heaping pressure on Congress to get a 'get out of jail free' card for their role in helping the government spy on their customers:
The campaign — which involves some of Washington's most prominent lobbying and law firms — has taken on new urgency in recent weeks because of fears that a U.S. appellate court in San Francisco is poised to rule that the lawsuits should be allowed to proceed.
If that happens, the telecom companies say, they may be forced to terminate their cooperation with the U.S. intelligence community — or risk potentially crippling damage awards for allegedly turning over personal information about their customers to the government without a judicial warrant.
The telecom's worries are telling. Our case is representing a class of U.S. residential customers, and does not include any terrorists — just ordinary folks who use the phone and email. The per person penalties are quite reasonable — If the telecoms were not spying on millions of innocent Americans, there is no way for the liability to become "crippling."
Moreover, the Administration obtained prospective immunity in the so-called Protect America Act earlier this year. If the telecoms are only operating under the extremely broad parameters of the PAA, there is no liability reason to stop cooperating moving forward. And yet they are so worried about liability, they threaten to terminate their cooperation.
To achieve in Congress what they could not achieve in court, the telecoms are not holding back:
Among those coordinating the industry's effort are two well-connected capital players who both worked for President George H.W. Bush: Verizon general counsel William Barr, who served as attorney general under 41, and AT&T senior executive vice president James Cicconi, who was the elder Bush's deputy chief of staff.
Working with them are a battery of major D.C. lobbyists and lawyers who are providing "strategic advice" to the companies on the issue, according to sources familiar with the campaign who asked not to be identified talking about it. Among the players, these sources said: powerhouse Republican lobbyists Charlie Black and Wayne Berman (who represent AT&T and Verizon, respectively), former GOP senator and U.S. ambassador to Germany Dan Coats (a lawyer at King & Spaulding who is representing Sprint), former Democratic Party strategist and one-time assistant secretary of State Tom Donilon (who represents Verizon), former deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick (whose law firm also represents Verizon) and Brad Berenson, a former assistant White House counsel under President George W. Bush who now represents AT&T.