Telco Spying Accusations Widen
title=Voting in the Dark} Pasdar's disclosures prompted Reps. John Dingell, D-Mich., Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., to send a letter to fellow House members urging a delay in any telco immunity vote until the White House comes forward with additional information about the carriers' role in the spying program. "[Bush] continues to ask members of this body ... to vote in the dark," the letter states. "Because legislators should not vote before they have sufficient facts, we continue to insist that all House members be given access to the necessary information ... to make an informed decision on their vote."The carriers insist that the real issue is between the White House and Congress. "Current law ... provides a complete defense to any provider who in good faith relies on a statutory authorization," AT&T wrote in an Oct. 12 letter to lawmakers. "If the government advises a private company that a disclosure is authorized by statute, a presumption of regularity attaches." Bush told reporters Feb. 21 on Air Force One as he traveled back from a trip to Africa: "I would just tell you there's no compromise on whether these phone companies get liability protection. The American people understand we need to be listening to the enemy." The carriers contend they relied on existing federal, state and local laws and assurances from the highest level of government to provide access to consumers' personal telephone calls and e-mail without a subpoena. The carriers' cooperation with the government prompted more than 40 civil lawsuits claiming that the carriers violated the constitutional rights of Americans. "In order to be able to discover the enemy's plans, we need the cooperation of telecommunication companies," Bush said Feb. 13 in praising the Senate version of the FISA renewal. "If these companies are subjected to lawsuits that could cost them billions of dollars, they won't participate; they won't help us; they won't help protect America." The New York Times first broke the story of the administration's warrantless wiretapping in late 2005, and USA Today later reported that the National Security Agency is using information provided by telephone carriers to mine tens of millions of calling records for data.
The EFF's Cohn added: "Retroactive immunity for telecom companies now ought to be off the table in the ongoing FISA debate."