June 25, 2008 | By Tim Jones

Senators Dodd and Feingold Stand Strong Against Immunity

The Senate is once again arguing whether to pass The FISA Amendments Act, a deeply flawed and unconstitutional surveillance bill.

Tuesday evening, Senator Dodd of Connecticut clarified what's at stake:

This legislation includes provisions which would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that apparently have violated the privacy and the trust of millions of Americans by participating in the president’s warrantless wiretapping program. If we pass this legislation, the Senate will ratify a domestic spying regime that has already concentrated far too much unaccountable power in the president’s hands and will place the telecommunications companies above the law. ...

Let me make clear, at the outset of this debate, that this is not about domestic surveillance itself. We all recognize the importance of domestic surveillance – in an age of unprecedented threats. This is about illegal, unwarranted, unchecked domestic surveillance. ...

I am here today to say that I will not and cannot support this legislation. It goes against everything I have stood for – everything this body ought to stand for... This is about far more than a few telecoms – it is about contempt for the law, large and small.

This morning, Senator Feingold of Wisconsin elaborated:

Granting retroactive immunity under these circumstances will undermine any new laws that we pass regarding government surveillance. If we want companies to follow the law in the future, it sends a terrible message, and sets a terrible precedent, to give them a "get out of jail free" card for allegedly ignoring the law in the past.

I find it particularly troubling when some of my colleagues argue that we should grant immunity in order to encourage the telephone companies to cooperate with the government in the future. They want Americans to think that not granting immunity will damage our national security. But if you take a close look at the argument, it doesn’t hold up. The telephone companies are already legally obligated to cooperate with a court order, and as I’ve mentioned, they already have absolute immunity for cooperating with requests that are properly certified. So the only thing we’d be encouraging by granting immunity here is cooperation with requests that violate the law.

...This immunity provision doesn’t just allow telephone companies off the hook for breaking the law. It also will make it that much harder to get to the core issue that I’ve been raising since December 2005, which is that the President ran an illegal program and should be held accountable. When these lawsuits are dismissed, we will be that much further away from an independent judicial review of this program.

That about sums it up. The bill seeks to place a Congressional seal of approval on illegal surveillance, undermining the rule of law, preventing those who authorized it from being held accountable, and encouraging similar lawbreaking in the future. A vote is imminent — contact your Senators now and tell them to stand strong.

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