And now, the US supreme court just consecrated one of the most corrupt acts of the US government over the past decade: its vesting of retroactive legal immunity in the nation’s telecom giants after they had been caught red-handed violating multiple US eavesdropping laws. Just as the Obama DOJ forever precluded any legal accountability for Bush-era torturers, the supreme court on Tuesday forever precluded any legal accountability for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and other telecoms for their crucial participation in the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program (the Obama DOJ, needless to say, supported the position of the telecoms).
When the New York Times revealed on 16 December 2005 that the Bush administration was spying on the telephone calls and emails of American citizens without the warrants required by the criminal law, it exposed lawbreaking not only by government officials but also by the nation’s largest telecoms. Multiple laws were in place at the time imposing both criminal and civil liability on telecoms for enabling government spying on the communications of their customers without warrants or other legal authority, and that is exactly what these telecoms did. One former AT&T employee, Mark Klein, publicly described how AT&T had even built a separate room with no purpose but to permit the National Security Agency unfettered access to all of its customers’ communications.
What was most remarkable about those telecom laws is that - in the wake of the mid-1970s Church Committee investigation finding that the government abused its spying powers to punish and monitor dissidents - those laws were expressly written to prevent telecoms from participating in illegal government spying. They were written with the full participation of telecom lawyers to ensure that the companies’ obligations were crystal clear. And most amazingly of all, the laws already contained broad immunity clauses to ensure that telecoms could never be punished for “good faith” violations, but rather only for deliberate, knowing violations of the law. […]
But in the US, large and powerful actors must not be and are not subject to the rule of law. So telecoms hired former government officials from both parties to lobby for them and poured money into the coffers of key Democratic Senators such as Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (who became the chief advocate of telecom immunity).
In 2008, the industry obtained an extraordinary act of Congress that gave them the gift of retroactive immunity from all criminal and civil liability for their participation in the illegal eavesdropping programs aimed at Americans on US soil. The immunity was enacted by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, with the support of leading Democrats including Barack Obama, who had promised - when seeking his party’s nomination - to filibuster any bill that contained retroactive telecom immunity. […]
George Bush tried to distort objections to his illegal eavesdropping program into objections to “eavesdropping on the terrorists”, and here we have CNN in its headline and lede perpetuating that same claim. The CNN article does eventually note that “the law had previously required the government to justify a national security interest before any phone calls and emails originating in another country could be monitored”, that “a federal judge had to sign any search warrant” and that “Bush secretly suspended that requirement following the attacks” (Bush did not “secretly suspend that requirement but rather “secretly broke the law”: presidents do not have the power to “suspend laws”: that’s called “breaking the law”).