Bush: immunity for telcos that spy on citizens
President Bush is seeing the finely engineered apparatus of “umbrella laws” slip into his hands to exercise indispensable control in a risk-dominated society: the progressive deconstruction of the Patriot Act is underway, its automatisms are dismembering, by now internalized by the police, justified by the fight against terrorism. If that were not enough, the United States seems to have to do without the Protect America Act (PAA), another regulatory block capable of protecting indiscriminate state espionage. But Bush, whose popularity is at an all-time low, does not fit in, and is determined to impose his conditions.
Defined as the Police America Act by the ACLU civil rights association, approved hastily and unwillingly in August and destined to be replaced in February 2008, the PAA, in Bush’s opinion, filled some legislative and procedural gaps that had arisen with the advent of new technologies. This is how the PAA entrusts broad powers to the Attorney General , who are allowed to order up to one year of surveillance on foreigners or people who believe they are outside the USA, without having to go through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which since 1978, the year of approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA ), regulate and scale down state espionage. The PAA authorizes widespread and pervasive espionage, it does not provide any guarantee for intercepted persons nor on the contents of the interceptions.
The RESTORE Act (“Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed and Effective Act of 2007”), wanted by the Democrats, should replace the PAA, with an eye to the privacy of citizens. Approved by the Judiciary committee and the Intelligence committee of the House of Representatives, the bill imposes greater control over state espionage, partially reintroduces guarantees for American citizens placed under the spying lens while they stay you leave the controls and the procedures too agile requests to authorize general investigations to be conducted on non-American citizens. Likewise, no explicit protection on the contents communications involving even a single non-American citizen.
The RESTORE Act, according to Bush, is but a unworthy successor to the PAA . Embittered, the president, in a statement, appealed to the sensitivity and fears of his fellow citizens: “The threat that hangs over America will not end in February, the PAA is a vital tool for stopping terrorists, it would be a serious mistake for Congress to weaken it “.
But that’s not all: the RESTORE Act will require that, on a regular basis, be submitted to the Inspector General of the Department of Justice detailed reports on state espionage procedures , with regard to regular investigations and with regard to any illegal encroachments on the privacy of citizens. It will also be necessary to submit a report giving an account of all the espionage operations, irregular and regular, to which since the advent of the PATRIOT Act Bush acknowledged that he had systematically invited the National Security Agency (NSA).
It is on this point that Bush threatens to disagree. The president, reports the Washington Post, has promised to not to sign the bill if retroactive immunity is not guaranteed to the Telcos and ISPs through which the wiretapping was conducted. To paraphrase Bush’s words, these companies are still involved in multi-billion dollar trials only for serving the country . Companies that, in the eye of the storm, are still awaiting the ruling of the ninth district court of appeal for the class action brought by EFF against AT&T, a ruling that could decide to wipe out the accusations: if details contained in the files handled by the operators, national security could be at risk .
Bush promises stonewalling, declaring that he will sign the bill only if retroactive immunity is guaranteed to the operators who have collaborated with the state, operators who are among other things prodigal financiers of the Republican wing.
Retroactive immunity is an element that the Democrats are not willing to compromise on: ” It would be an irresponsible move for Congress to grant these companies immunity without knowing whether their conduct was legal or not Democratic congressman Steny Hoyer told AFP. The battle promises to be hot.