"No Telecom Amnesty" Editorial Round-up

This is the EFF's archive of newspaper editorials nationwide opposing amnesty for telecommunications companies complicit in the NSA dragnet. More information is available on our AT&T Resources Page.

See also "No Amnesty For Telecom Lawbreakers!" [PDF] — An ad placed by EFF in The Hill on November 8, 2007 which graphically summarizes some of these editorials.

Westport News

The Other Senator from Connecticut
January 9, 2008

Some will say the telecoms were just doing their patriotic duty by allowing the government access. Bear in mind, though, that the administration would have had no problem getting a warrant if they showed probable cause and could be somewhat specific about what they were looking for.

It seems fairly obvious that the administration was engaging in the biggest "fishing expedition" of all time with our telecommunications as their "pond." We're talking "Big Brother" here. Are we really ready to accept an Orwellian police state?

Some will say it's necessary to fight terrorists and the innocent have nothing to worry about but it's just not that simple.

It would be hard to put the matter in better perspective than Ben Franklin who famously said, "Those who forsake essential liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor security." To us, those sound like the words of a patriot.

We should be proud that it's our representative who is fighting the good fight in Washington.

San Jose Mercury News

National Security
December 31, 2007

Immunity from prosecution is one thing. But it's important that Congress not block privacy lawsuits from proceeding. It's legitimate to challenge the legality of past wiretaps. The legal process needs to play out.

Warrant procedures were established in the 1970s after it was discovered that wiretap powers were widely abused, sometimes for political purposes. That potential for abuse still exists, and Congress is Americans' first line of defense against it.

In the "long war" against terrorism, intelligence is a powerful weapon. But as we defend ourselves from enemies, we shouldn't sacrifice our freedoms to our fears.

Seattle Post Intelligencer

Privacy Rights: Spying on us
December 21, 2007

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.

New York Times

Bad Bill Now, Bad Bill Later
December 19, 2007
The White House says it wants to protect patriotic executives. It really wants to make sure Americans never find out how much illegal spying their president ordered up after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Last week, Mr. Reid started pushing a bill by the Senate Intelligence Committee that gave Mr. Bush all of that — with a six-year expiration date to tie the hands of the next president. It wasn’t his only choice. He could have supported a bill by the Senate Judiciary Committee, similar to one passed by the House, with a two-year sunset, real judicial supervision, restraints on executive power and no amnesty. A few Democratic senators, including Pat Leahy, Russ Feingold and Christopher Dodd, opposed Mr. Reid, who tried to get around them by cutting deals with Republicans but failed.

In January, the Senate will reconsider this issue in the midst of the primary season, with the February expiration date looming. Mr. Bush and his allies will issue dire warnings that intelligence agents won’t be able to listen to phone calls by Osama bin Laden. That was not true before, is not true now and won’t be true then.

The Denver Post

Resist push for more spy power
December 17, 2007

Here we go again. As Congress heads toward a holiday recess, Bush administration officials are putting on the full-court press, urging lawmakers to approve legislation giving the government wide-ranging spy powers in the name of national security.

High on the agenda is blanket immunity for communications companies that have allowed warrantless spying on customers.

It's a dangerous idea that would give the administration cover for its activities by taking away the ability to question them through a lawsuit.

San Francisco Chronicle

No backdoor immunity
December 6, 2007

The Senate Judiciary Committee, including our own Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., must take a very critical look at a "compromise" to protect telecom companies that assisted the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Domestic Surveillance: An eye on our spies
December 6, 2007

A key sticking point is the Bush demand that Congress grant legal immunity to the major telephone companies that likely cooperated with the NSA's warrantless spying.

It's dangerous public policy to subject companies to liability for having cooperated in good faith to a request from the White House for assistance in a time of crisis. But the phone companies' bid for absolute immunity appears to be a case of overkill.

Immunity would shield the Bush administration from having to justify its end-run around the FISA law. It would leave unanswered the underlying question of whether the telecom companies should have stepped aside when federal agents showed up to tap into their networks without warrants.

If Congress regards the telecom firms as unwitting pawns in domestic spying, then it can enact caps on potential legal damages against the companies. That would be fair, while giving the courts a chance to get to the bottom of how millions of Americans' privacy rights were compromised.

Most of all, those citizens need Congress to assure that rules are written to require warrants and that any domestic spying of the bad guys is closely targeted.

San Jose Mercury News

Congress must beef up court oversight of spy program
November 20, 2007

California's Senator Dianne Feinstein, a key lawmaker on intelligence matters, should play a pivotal role in fashioning a compromise. It's worth exploring proposals such as substituting the government for the telecom firms as a defendant in the privacy lawsuits or limiting the potential financial damages to the companies.

The key is allowing the private lawsuits to go forward so that important constitutional issues can be explored. Litigation also would help shine a light on how far outside the law government snooping may have gone. And fundamentally, courts are the place to test the limits of executive power and the balance between civil liberties and national security.

The Register-Guard (Oregon)

No immunity for telecoms
November 19, 2007

Before voting for the immunity provision, lawmakers should recall that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was passed by Congress in 1978 after hearings led by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho revealed decades of extensive and illegal government surveillance of private citizens and lawful organizations. While FISA proved less than perfect, it succeeded — until the excesses of the Bush administration — in preventing widespread government eavesdropping without warrants.

Administration officials say President Bush will veto the surveillance bill if the immunity provision is removed. They argue that companies that answered the presidential call to protect the nation from terrorist attacks after Sept. 11, 2001, deserve protection and that they might be reluctant to do so in the future if that protection is denied.

But that flag-waving logic ignores the responsibility that presidents and corporations have to obey the law. Nearly three decades ago, Congress established a clear, workable legal process, including a secret special court established to deal exclusively with government surveillance requests. Yet the Bush administration chose to bypass that law and a disturbing number of companies chose to cooperate.

The Salt Lake Tribune

Blumner: Lawmakers should reject immunity for telecoms in wiretap cases
November 19, 2007

The administration's demand that Congress shield the telecommunications industry from lawsuits for aiding in the systematic warrantless wiretapping of Americans has far less to do with protecting national security than its own exposed flanks.

Make no mistake, telecom immunity is about keeping a flagrantly illegal program from public scrutiny and maintaining the illusion that the president ordered a small, precision surveillance program, when the opposite is true.

San Francisco Chronicle

A Vote About The Rule Of Law
November 15, 2007

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on whether to offer retroactive immunity to telecom companies that allowed the government - without required warrants - to scrutinize customer phone records and Internet activity after Sept. 11, 2001.

The vote is expected to be close. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., once again a potential swing vote on the committee, has signaled her support for the immunity provision.

If the immunity provision survives, Americans may never learn the extent to which the Bush administration - with the cooperation of telecom companies - may have openly defied laws designed to ensure that government surveillance is limited to targeted, legitimate law enforcement purposes. The immunity provision in the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act would wipe out about 40 lawsuits alleging that telecom firms violated their customers' rights by handing over data without insisting on a warrant.

Sacramento Bee (California)

Spying inside U.S. requires strong boundaries
Feinstein and Senate colleagues should not grant immunity to phone companies
November 14, 2007

The issue is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who sits on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, is key to the outcome. When the Intelligence Committee voted on the issue in October, Feinstein voted to approve immunity. But now the National Journal reports that she's giving the issue "further thought," a good thing.

She should hear out Mark Klein, a former technician in AT&T's San Francisco office. Klein has documents showing that AT&T allowed the National Security Agency to tap into its networks in San Francisco, gaining access to the domestic e-mails, phone conversations and Internet traffic of more than a dozen global and regional telecommunications providers.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Privacy Rights: Trust government?
November 12, 2007
President Bush vows to veto a bill that doesn't give immunity to companies that hand over private records to the government. We hope that the Democratic Congress stands up to such blatant, wide-reaching violations of our privacy.

New York Times

Spies, Lies and FISA
October 14, 2007

Mr. Bush says the law should give immunity to communications companies that gave data to the government over the last five years without a court order. He says they should not be punished for helping to protect America, but what Mr. Bush really wants is to avoid lawsuits that could uncover the extent of the illegal spying he authorized after 9/11.

It may be possible to shield these companies from liability, since the government lied to them about the legality of its requests. But the law should allow suits aimed at forcing disclosure of Mr. Bush’s actions. It should also require a full accounting to Congress of all surveillance conducted since 9/11. And it should have an expiration date, which the White House does not want.

With Democrats Like These ...
October 20, 2007

And it would dismiss pending lawsuits against companies that turned data over to the government without a warrant.

This provision is not primarily about protecting patriotic businessmen, as Mr. Bush claims. It’s about ensuring that Mr. Bush and his aides never have to go to court to explain how many laws they’ve broken. It is a collusion between lawmakers and the White House that means that no one is ever held accountable. Democratic lawmakers said they reviewed the telecommunications companies’ cooperation (by reading documents selected by the White House) and concluded that lawsuits were unwarranted. Unlike them, we still have faith in the judicial system, which is where that sort of conclusion is supposed to be reached, not in a Senate back room polluted by the politics of fear.

USA Today

Our view on your phone records: Immunity demand for telecoms raises questions
As history shows, mass snooping can sweep up innocent citizens.
October 22, 2007

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has repeatedly bypassed the special court set up to preserve balance. Now, with Congress threatening to restore some level of protection, the administration is insisting on legal immunity for telecommunications companies that might have turned over records improperly. Last week, a key Senate committee agreed.

The request alone is enough to raise suspicion, particularly given the nation's history.

In the 1960s and '70s when law enforcement and spy agencies launched mass snooping against U.S. citizens, some of the data ended up being used for nefarious purposes, such as IRS tax probes, that had nothing to do with protecting the nation.

That is the danger when an administration can tap into phone records without court oversight, and it is what's at issue now.

Los Angeles Times

Bush’s chance to RESTORE credibility
The president should stop threatening to veto the RESTORE Act and acknowledge that his approach to terrorist surveillance was misguided.
October 13, 2007

As for the phone companies, the resistance in Congress to granting them immunity to a great extent reflects the view that lawsuits against them might be the only way to obtain an accounting of exactly what the Terrorist Surveillance Program involved -- wiretapping only, or the widespread data mining of phone records? If the president really wants to spare the companies the threat of litigation, he must level with Congress and the country about how much privacy Americans are sacrificing in the war on terror.

The Repository (Ohio)

Value your privacy? Tell your senators
November 13, 2007

If Ohioans who value their privacy listen to Donald Kerr and Mark Klein, they will know what they are up against.

Once they know that, Ohioans should lobby their members of Congress to protect and defend their interests against what may be an alarmingly intrusive tide of surveillance by government against its citizens.

Dallas Morning News

Beck and Call: Verizon too eager to surrender phone records
October 19, 2007

Congress is right to look at the immunity proposal with a skeptical eye, especially since the administration has been reluctant to explain details of its controversial surveillance programs to lawmakers. The law would further erode the privacy firewall and remove another layer of checks and balances.[5]

Denver Post

Stand up for civil liberties
It’s time for Democrats to stick up for the rule of the law and fight the president on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
October 15, 2007

There likely will be a lot of debate over President Bush's insistence that any new law include protection for telecommunications companies that are being sued for giving the administration vast quantities of information.

The companies are facing multibillion-dollar lawsuits for giving the administration records of e-mails and phone calls in the days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Democrats have objected to granting retroactive immunity, but last week House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said that including that provision might be the price of getting the president to stop making veto threats and sign a new law.

Enough capitulation already. Congressional Democrats must pass a law that provides a way to make sure the administration isn't abusing its authority and empowers the FISA court to protect civil liberties. It's not too much to ask.

Boston Globe

Legal limits for wiretaps
October 15, 2007

To its credit, the House drops the immunity provisions for the telecommunications companies in the new bill and carries its own expiration date, two years from passage.[7]

San Francisco Chronicle

Wrong way
Congress should not follow on FISA
October 23, 2007

One of the most hotly contested provisions of the Senate's FISA bill would retroactively grant telecom providers with legal immunity for any assistance they provided to the National Security Agency's surveillance program after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The immunity provision is a serious point of contention because several carriers, including AT&T and Verizon, are facing lawsuits that they violated privacy laws by providing the government with customer information without court warrants.

The suppression of those lawsuits would effectively wipe out an opportunity for Americans to finally get a sense of the scope of the Bush administration's defiance of a 1978 law that required federal authorities to go to a special court that was set up to review and approve such requests.

Fortunately, key members of the House - including Speaker Nancy Pelosi - appear determined to resist the immunity request.

New Jersey Star Ledger

No immunity for telecoms
October 21, 2007

The immunity bill would let the telecommunications companies off the hook, but not administration officials. This is misguided. All those who deliberately broke the surveillance laws should be held to account. If not, we are simply inviting more privacy abuses in the future.

Miami Herald

No immunity for secret wiretapping
Our Opinion: congress should allow lawsuits to proceed
October 23, 2007

Anyone who expected that the change in political control of Congress to Democrats from Republicans would bode well for the protection of civil liberties should be dismayed by last week's action in the Senate Intelligence Committee. The panel voted to grant telecommunications companies retroactive immunity from lawsuits alleging they violated Americans' privacy rights by aiding the government's secret warrantless surveillance program.

This is nothing less than a cover-up designed to keep the public in the dark about how seriously their constitutional rights were violated. The committee acted after the telecommunications companies admitted that they had assisted the Bush administration in warrantless spying on Americans, a program whose legality has been challenged. This admission was accompanied by a fierce lobbying effort by company executives arguing that they were merely making a good-faith effort to assist the government.

Buffalo News

Go slow with immunity
Warrantless wiretapping was abuse that shouldn’t be swept aside lightly
October 24, 2007

Whoever elicited this information from the communications companies clearly had no right to it under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The Bush administration nearly concedes the point in demanding the grant of immunity. If the phone companies didn’t do anything illegal, why do they need immunity?

OK, so people get sued even when they didn’t do wrong, and it can be pretty costly to defend one’s corporate self in court, even when the corporation is not guilty.

Still, there is no reason to let the telecoms off the hook so easily. They may have been panicked by 9/11 or threatened by the government, but they didn’t have to roll over so easily. Qwest didn’t.

Toledo Blade

Those tell-all telecoms
October 23, 2007

Blind obedience to government fiat is not what the Constitution requires, and the telecom giants know better. Yet they timidly turn over the information, then plead for blanket immunity from the federal privacy laws they tell their customers they uphold.

Such immunity is not warranted and should not be granted by Congress.

News & Observer (North Carolina)

GOP’s patriot game
October 22, 2007

One Republican said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had "underestimated the intelligence of the American people and the bipartisan majority in the Congress to understand what matters most -- preventing another terrorist attack." That is a preposterous statement -- as if Pelosi didn't understand the gravity of the battle against terrorism.

It is not the speaker who underestimates the intelligence of the people. It's the Republicans who try to play on the fears of the people while they seek to give the Bush administration broad powers to do whatever it wishes with regard to domestic surveillance.

Albany Times-Union

Qwest for truth
October 22, 2007

To its credit, the House refused to consider immunity. Nonetheless, Democratic leaders have pulled back the House bill after Republicans tried to derail it. But the Senate has agreed to immunity as it prepares legislation to extend sections of the Patriot Act. How discouraging. If Democratic leaders ever needed a reason to stand up to the White House and refuse to approve blanket surveillance powers, they have one in Joseph Nacchio. They should refuse to act until they know just what happened in February 2001, and why.[14]

Strong-arming Congress
October 29, 2007

House Democratic leaders on the intelligence and judiciary committees are fighting the immunity provision. But in the Senate, it's a different story. While the Judiciary Committee has shown no willingness, as yet, to support immunity, the Senate Intelligence Committee has taken a more favorable position. And for that, the White House has agreed to reward the members of that committee by making available some documents showing just what kind of conduct would be held harmless under the new law.

Philadelphia Daily News

Dems, Hold Fast On Wiretap Law
Telecoms Need A Spine, Not Immunity From Lawsuits
October 16, 2007

If telecom companies fear lawsuits, then here's a tip for them: Don't break the law.

It doesn't matter if President Bush comes to your offices, personally, and demands that you do.

Just because he's the president doesn't mean he can do an end run on the Constitution, and ignorance and fear of political retribution isn't an excuse for violating our rights.

Congress cannot and should not cave in to the heavy pressure telecom companies and the White House are exerting on them.

When the right of individuals to protect their rights through the court system is at stake, there should never be such a thing as a free pass.

Anniston Star (Alabama)

Go ahead, D.C.: Listen in
October 25, 2007

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is heading up a class-action lawsuit against one phone giant. EFF accuses AT&T of “violating the law and the privacy of its customers by collaborating with the National Security Agency (NSA) in its massive, illegal program to wiretap and data-mine Americans’ communications.”

Though the details are clouded and specifics absent, it appears that the core of the allegation is on the money. After 9/11, the administration pressured phone companies to hand over the goods without the benefit of a warrant.

Naples Daily News (Florida)

Government surveillance
But immunity from what?
October 18, 2007

President Bush is insisting on retroactive legal immunity from lawsuits for telecommunications companies that secretly cooperated with the government in warrantless wiretapping of American citizens. The House Democratic leadership and the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee say they will consider some form of immunity, but first they want to know exactly what it is the companies did that they need immunity from.

This request seems only fair, but the administration is balking, one suspects because it doesn’t want Congress to learn the vast size and scope of its eavesdropping.

The News Leader (Staunton, Virginia)

Senate sells us out
October 21, 2007

Where the Senate bill goes completely off the tracks is in its disregard for the rule of law. Instead of acknowledging the abuses of the past six years by permitting about 40 pending lawsuits charging several telecommunications companies with violations of Americans' privacy and constitutional rights to go forward, the bill gives these companies a pass; it grants them immunity from prosecution. This is precisely what the Bush administration has sought and what the companies have lobbied for. No crime boss could hope for a better outcome.

Any argument that would suggest that the companies ought not to be punished for giving in to administration demands that they break the law — a moral cave-in born of fear for the consequences to the companies' bottom lines — ignores one simple fact: America shouldn't work this way. This is how things are done in banana republics, Third World nations and by gang bosses; it is not the way things should be done in the United States.

Ventura County Star (California)

Legal cover from what?
Immunity request stalls bill
October 22, 2007

President Bush is insisting on retroactive legal immunity from lawsuits for telecommunications companies that secretly cooperated with the government in warrantless wiretapping of American citizens.

The House Democratic leadership and the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee say they may consider some form of immunity but first they want to know exactly what it is the companies did that they need immunity from.

This request seems only fair, but the administration is balking, one suspects because it doesn't want Congress to learn the vast size and scope of its eavesdropping.

Tracy Press (California)

Will Democrats go along with sham?
October 13, 2007

To reward the phone companies, Bush says he will veto any revision to the Protect America Act that doesn’t give the phone companies immunity to privacy lawsuits by consumers.

Perhaps a soul-searching representative of the American people will rename the wiretapping bill for what it is: the Protect the Bush Administration and its Friends from Prosecution Act.

Brattleboro Reformer (Vermont)

Privacy should stay private
October 23, 2007

In short, before Congress decided to cave in to President Bush's demands to give him more power to invade our privacy, and absolve others from legal liability for invading our privacy, there needs to be a thoughtful discussion about what privacy is all about and why it is the most important right in a civilized society.

Bangor Daily News (Maine)

Eavesdropping on the Line
October 22, 2007

Rather than broaden the Protect American Act, Congress should scale it back, and the House should refuse the blanket immunity portion of the bill agreed to in a Senate Committee. Unless the administration can demonstrate that the FISA court posed a real hurdle to terrorism investigations, yearlong blanket warrants do not appear necessary.

The White House also has pushed to give the Justice Department oversight of the program. Given the department’s recent history of political decisions and lack of clarity over its involvement in eavesdropping, this is the wrong place for such a controversial program. The FISA court has proven it can handle the task and should retain its full authority.

Although lawmakers are rightly worried that they’ll be blamed for any terrorist act, the system set up before the Protect America Act largely worked. Lawmakers should not be afraid to return to it.

The Canton Repository (Ohio)

Value your privacy? Tell your senators
November 14, 2007

If Ohioans who value their privacy listen to Donald Kerr and Mark Klein, they will know what they are up against.

Once they know that, Ohioans should lobby their members of Congress to protect and defend their interests against what may be an alarmingly intrusive tide of surveillance by government against its citizens.

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