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December 19, 2007

Connecticut senator temporarily blocks illegal surveillance immunity for Telcos

In a previous post I decried the Congressional Democrats as a bunch of capitulators, citing the complex pending legislation revising the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to grant immunity for past illegal acts to the major Telecommunications companies. Now Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has been forced by Chris Dodd's action to delay consideration of, what the New York Times calls, this "bad bill." It's at best a brief win. But it's a win thanks to Senator Dodd.

Maine Owl's sister site, has very significant posts featuring Maine Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Shenna Bellows in speeches and an August interview. Rolled up in the major case now before the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is a Maine case concerning Verizon's phone records snooping on behalf of warrantless Bush domestic intel gathering. Presumably the immunity that would be granted by the revision would end this case and make Verizon and the other telcos untouchable for illegal acts of spying.

Now I want to give MSNBC's Countdown program and guest host Alison Stewart huge kudos for they way they have reported this story the last couple of days. Stewart did an excellent, lengthy piece on Monday including an illuminating interview with Air America's Sam Seder, and then did a post-game interview with Senator Dodd on Tuesday.

I am embedding the YouTube video of both of these segments below. But first I want to appreciate the fine writing in Stewart's Monday setup that captures the essence and significance of the issue. I especially like the way Stewart sharply contrasts candidate Dodd with the other Democratic senators running for president. Why can't we have more of this on television??
Alison Stewart (Dec. 17): The next time anyone tells you no one can make a difference in Washington, that no one person can get anything done, tell them about what happened today. In our number three story tonight, the senate began debating a bill that would strip you of the right to sue phone companies for eavesdropping on you.

President Bush is pushing to give blanket immunity to any phone company that agreed to let the government listen in on phone and track e-mail traffic passing through its lines without going through the special top secret courts known as the FISA courts. It is far more than a legal battle for several reasons. One, the three dozen lawsuits against phone companies offer one of the only ways America can hope to find out exactly what Mr. Bush has done. Two, immunity for the phone companies could set a precedent for other companies assisting the government in certain activity, such as renditioning.

Democratic presidential candidates oppose immunity, but when the FISA debate began today, only one had left Iowa to fight the battle in Washington. Senator Chris Dodd vowed to filibuster as long as he could to block the immunity provision from the overall FISA bill which is intended to bring the government?s electronic eavesdropping within shouting distance of constitutionality. Despite the absence of other candidates, Dodd did get help on the floor today....
Here is the Monday video:

MSNBC Countdown December 17,2007

And here is Tuesday's interview with Senator Dodd:

MSNBC Countdown December 18,2007

I've not in the past been a great fan of Chris Dodd. He's very tight with banking and other financial interests. But in supporting civil liberties against the surveillance state and in opposing the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment virtually declaring war on Iran, he has earned a lot of respect from my point of view.


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