No no no no no.
If this bill passes, civil liberties will be dead in this country:
After months of wrangling, Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress struck a deal on Thursday to overhaul the rules on the government’s wiretapping powers and provide what amounts to legal immunity to the phone companies that took part in President Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The deal, expanding the government’s powers in some key respects, would allow intelligence officials to use broad warrants to eavesdrop on foreign targets and conduct emergency wiretaps without court orders on American targets for a week if it is determined important national security information would be lost otherwise. If approved, as appears likely, it would be the most significant revision of surveillance law in 30 years.
The agreement would settle one of the thorniest issues in dispute by providing immunity to the phone companies in the Sept. 11 program as long as a federal district court determines that they received legitimate requests from the government directing their participation in the warrantless wiretapping operation.
As a properly outraged Glenn Greenwald puts it,
So all the Attorney General has to do is recite those magic words -- the President requested this eavesdropping and did it in order to save us from the Terrorists -- and the minute he utters those words, the courts are required to dismiss the lawsuits against the telecoms, no matter how illegal their behavior was.
That's the "compromise" Steny Hoyer negotiated and which he is now -- according to very credible reports -- pressuring every member of the Democratic caucus to support. It's full-scale, unconditional amnesty with no inquiry into whether anyone broke the law. In the U.S. now, thanks to the Democratic Congress, we'll have a new law based on the premise that the President has the power to order private actors to break the law, and when he issues such an order, the private actors will be protected from liability of any kind on the ground that the Leader told them to do it -- the very theory that the Nuremberg Trial rejected.
One can only hope this is not a done deal, that enough members of Congress can still be mustered to stop the lawmaking branch of government from endorsing illegal behavior by the executive branch and some large telecommunication companies. I myself just sent this to my Democratic Senator, Sherrod Brown:
Dear Senator Brown,
I have read with great concern about a so-called "compromise" bill on FISA that is making its way through congress, one that would allow the federal government to conduct warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens and which would grant telecommunications companies that spied on Americans immunity from lawsuits seeking to hold them accountable for their illegal actions.
I urge you in the strongest of terms to oppose this bill, to filibuster it, to use whatever procedural and tactical techniques at your disposal to prevent it from becoming law.
We do not need to surrender our freedoms to fight terrorists. We should not endorse lawbreaking by corporations whose sole defense is that they were only following orders.
I have watched in horror as Congress and the administration have done away with habeas corpus and otherwise chipped away at our hard-won civil liberties. History teaches us that once taken away, such liberties are rarely restored.
Please, Senator Brown--stop this bill now.
And where is Barack Obama on this issue? This is the time for him to speak out and rally his supporters against the destruction of privacy rights and the rule of law.