back to article Democrats refuse immunity for warrantless wiretappers

Democrats in the US House of Representatives defied President Bush on Tuesday by refusing to pass an overhauled surveillance law that shields telecommunication companies from lawsuits alleging they aided government eavesdropping without the required court order. Instead, they proposed the establishment of a bipartisan …


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  1. Andy Hards
    Thumb Up

    Cos of course

    making something legal after the crime is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Blimey, I wish I could do that. You could get away with murder, once you've changed the law to make it legal, of course. Not that I've ever killed someone.

  2. skeptical i
    Thumb Up

    Glad to see the Dems stand up to Chimpy

    If the House and Senate vote strictly along party lines (highly likely), there are not enough Dem votes to override the veto (and this assumes that the Senate would sign on to the House's version). I'd like to think that some of the moderate Republicans would see the House bill as reasonable (especially in an election year, with much of the electorate fed up with Chimpy's antics) and vote for it, but I'd like to think a lot of things.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Legislators ignorant of the US Constitution

    Specifically, Article I, section 9 - the part saying

    "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."

    The US legislature is expressly forbidden to pass any law retroactively criminalizing or decriminalizing past behavior.


    Not that anyone's looked at the old rag lately.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    i wonder if catholic church would get involved in that one...

    after all they are in bussiness of forgivenes....right?

    on the other hand i am not so forgiving i say lets have bbq with the ones responsible for such lack of ethics in first place and the mess they caused.

    after all every one likes a good roast with big open flames and pitchforks

  5. IR

    But they haven't broken the law...

    Funny how Bush keeps saying that they haven't broken the law. Yet he still thinks they need immunity from prosecution for breaking the laws that they haven't broken. And he is willing to sacrifice troops in Iraq to get it. And the comms companies won't cooperate again if they have the chance of being sued. Except they have all signed up to cooperate for the next few years anyway. Of course, it is all the Dems fault for making him veto it...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's NOT an ex post facto law

    @Anonymous Coward re Ex Post Facto Law.

    The legislation being proposed is not criminalizing or decriminalizing past behavior. The issue, as clearly discussed by the Register article, is that Democrats are refusing to incorporate a grant of immunity to the telecommunications companies. Refusing to grant immunity is NOT the same as passing an ex post facto law. The House bill would not retroactively criminalize their past behavior; it would merely refuse to provide a shield of legal immunity to the telecoms.

    Being able to cite the Constitution is one thing. Understanding whether or not it applies in this case is something else altogether.

  7. yeah, right.

    not about ethics

    It's not about ethics, it's about political power and toeing the party line. Then they wonder why people don't trust politicians. At all.

  8. Tam Lin
    Black Helicopters

    Waterboard the lot of 'em

    I say we waterboard the Bush administration and the telco Cxxs. I'm sure they would all 'fess up and save the cost of a bi-whatever commission. After all, Bush himself declared waterboarding as fun, useful, legal, and as Amurkin as apple pie.

    Warrant? I don't need no stinkin' warrant!

    - Ivan G. Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon

  9. Eugene Goodrich


    It's a dilemma: does Congress show behavior that will encourage companies to in the future help the government do shady things in the name of security (which the government has said it wants to do), or behavior that will encourage companies in the future to obey the law?

    I know to most normal people this does not seem difficult. That's because we normal people aren't elected officials in high positions.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    WTF, Mr Bush?

    The FISA system, with a court and judges picked to be able to handle secret evidence, was the obvious way to handle this. The law needed some adjustment to handle terrorism, and post-9/11 probably needed more staff and money to cover the extended anti-terrorism work.

    There's even good legal doctrine that would have allowed a court to have found the telcos no guilty over any wiretaps between 9/11 and an extended law being passed. If the wiretaps were necessary, they can be defended.

    But here we are in 2008, with a solidly Republican legislature until the 2006 elections, the President Bush didn't want to take that path.

    Clearly, he doesn't want anyone in the legislature or judiciary to know what he is doing.

  11. Jamie

    Lisa Simpson stated it best

    Washington cess pool on the Potomac and it stank then and it stinks now.

    Don't think truer words could be spoken.

  12. Anonymous Coward


    You monkeys gave him the power, you can damn well suffer.

    I'm surprised some middle class, white, educated suburbanite hasn't popped the old man in in the head. At least Saddam stuck to terrorising only his own country.

  13. Klaus

    @ AC: It's NOT an ex post facto law

    Errr, I think the first AC was merely stating that the Senate's (and Bush's) version which DID try to grant retro-immunity was in fact violating that principle....

  14. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge


    Here is one Potomac I know of :,-0.291889&spn=0.001874,0.003594&t=h&z=18 and it's in London. I guess it's contagious.

  15. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Protecting the innocent!

    Of course, the Dummicrats are just thinking of the innocents that might get tapped, like those making calls to prostitutes and then trying to hide the payments by splitting them into sub-$10k banking transfers.....

    Hilarious that the measures to track dodgy bank transfers and wiretapping brought in by the Patriots Act should have led to the unmasking of Democrat Governor of New York State Eliot Spitzer, the man who bleated on about cleaning up the state! No surprise the Dummicrats are trying to get both undone ASAP. After all, they need to warn their own members and friends in advance if anyone gets a little too close to pearing into their dirty laundry.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Ex post facto

    Klaus is right - I was referring to the original law (and the whole concept of retroactive immunity). Apologies if that wasn't sufficiently clear.

    The only out I can see for the telcos (assuming they violated the law) is prosecution, conviction, and a presidential pardon.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Hahahahaha!!!

    "You monkeys gave him the power, you can damn well suffer."

    In 2000 "None of the Above" was the best choice, same in 2004. Both years had a choice between bad and worse. Yes, third party candidates exist but too many mindless sheeple vote party only, leaving the rest to choose bad instead of worse.

    How did this happen? The nut case extremists run the primaries in the US, so bad and worse is the typical choice.

    "I'm surprised some middle class, white, educated suburbanite hasn't popped the old man in in the head. At least Saddam stuck to terrorising only his own country."

    Iran 1980's, Kuait 1990.

    AC because I am ashamed to admit I responded to a troll.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Saddam stuck to terrorising only his own country.

    Apart from wars of aggression, he/his regime is also pretty widely recognised as at least a facilitator of Palestinian Terrorism/Freedom Fighting, and for being pretty anti-Israel.

    Not that such is an excuse for the clusterfuck of money-grabbing incompetence that ensued after the invasion.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Constitution be damned

    No use citing the Constitution, the rethuglicans are only interested in upholding one part of it, the Second Amendment. The rest of it is just a minor inconvenience, to be ignored when appropriate.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In his own weasel words

    "Unfortunately, some of the private companies have been sued for billions of dollars because they are believed to have helped defend America after the attacks on 9/11. Now the question is, should these lawsuits be allowed to proceed, or should any company that helped save American lives be thanked for performing a patriotic service? Should those who stepped forward to say we're going to help defend America have to go to the courthouse to defend themselves, or should the Congress and the President say thank you for doing your patriotic duty?"

    Let he who can listed to GWB without puking cast the first vote for telecom immunity.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    oops, my bad

    @AC and Klaus

    Apologies. I misunderstood the point you were trying to make.

  22. WhatWasThat?

    Original Senate Bill

    For those interested...

    Section 202 (a)(1)(A)(i). Note that the phrase "shall not lie or be maintained" means that even if the legal action was found in plaintiff's favor, it cannot be enforced. That pretty much sums up "getting away with it", doesn't it?


    (This may or may not work, if it does, get the version for "[S.2248.PCS]", which was what the Senate voted on and approved. If it does not work, go to "Text of Legislation" link on "")



    (a) Limitations -

    (1) IN GENERAL- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a covered civil action shall not lie or be maintained in a Federal or State court, and shall be promptly dismissed, if the Attorney General certifies to the court that--

    (A) the assistance alleged to have been provided by the electronic communication service provider was--

    (i) in connection with an intelligence activity involving communications that was--

    (I) authorized by the President during the period beginning on September 11, 2001, and ending on January 17, 2007; and

    (II) designed to detect or prevent a terrorist attack, or activities in preparation for a terrorist attack, against the United States; and

    (ii) described in a written request or directive from the Attorney General or the head of an element of the intelligence community (or the deputy of such person) to the electronic communication service provider indicating that the activity was--

    (I) authorized by the President; and

    (II) determined to be lawful; or

    (B) the electronic communication service provider did not provide the alleged assistance.


    The pirate icon is for me and me alone. I would not sully that Flag of Freedom(tm) by implying that the Bushies are being so.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ "Saddam stuck to terrorising only his own country"

    Yeah, good job he didn't invade other countries; for example, Iran or Kuwait.

    Oh, hang on...

  24. Mike Silver badge

    Presidential Pardon

    I think those are only good for keeping co-conspirators out of jail.

    Not for nullifying awards of damages in civil suits.

    Not that I expect a hand-packed SCOTUS to make that distinction.

  25. Morely Dotes

    Re: In his own weasel words


    "Some of the private companies controlled by Republican lackeys have been sued for billions of dollars for their complicity in violating the US Constitution and other Federal laws after we used 9/11 as our own Reichstag fire. Now, the question is, should these lawsuits be allowed to proceed, or should any company that put profits and political power ahead of American law be allowed to usurp the rights of the citizens? Should those who stepped forward to say we're going to help the Bush Administration overthrow the rule of law have to go to the courthouse to defend themselves, or should the Congress and the American people demand justice for the crimes they have committed?"

    Skull and Crossbones for the poisoned dreams of Americans. I spent 23 years in the US Army, defending the Constitution. GW Bush and his cronies made me regret that choice.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    So freakin' what

    You are all right, of course. But then we can all be right and have our throats slit and our wives and daughters wearing the latest spring fashions in pastel burqa wear. Screw being right - I find being alive preferable to turning the clock back to the 7th century. Revel in your righteousness infidels. This war didn't start with Bush and wiretaps and won't end because you groveled at the alter of placation and correctness.

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