Understanding Your Phone Bill: Telecom Immunity Charge
Sen. Chris Dodd’s threats of a filibuster forced the Senate to reconsider the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act once before. Sadly, they didn’t get it rewritten, which is why the Connecticut Democrat is now threatening to filibuster it again.
Yesterday Dodd, along with Sen. Russ Feingold (D., Wis.) said they plan to take steps to block FISA as long as it grants retroactive immunity to telecoms complicit in the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program. “No one seriously wants to financially cripple our telecommunications industry,” Dodd said in remarks before the Senate last night. “The point is to bring checks and balances back to domestic spying. Setting that precedent would hardly require a crippling judgment. It’s much more troubling, though, that our director of National Intelligence even bothers to speak to ‘liability protection for private-sector entities.’ This isn’t the Secretary of Commerce we’re talking about, but the head of our nation’s intelligence efforts. For that matter, how does that even begin to be relevant to letting this case go forward? Since when did we throw entire suits out because the defendant stood to lose too much? It astounds me that some can speak in the same breath about national security and bottom lines. Approve immunity, and Congress will state clearly: The richer you are, the more successful you are, the more lawless you are entitled to be. A suit against you is a danger to the Republic! And so, at the rock-bottom of its justifications, the telecoms’ advocates are essentially arguing that immunity can be bought.”
And, according to MAPlight’s analysis of PAC campaign contributions from Verizon (VZ), AT&T (T) and Sprint (S), it can.
To prevail, Dodd’s filibuster must be supported by 41 of the 100 senators. If its opponents can muster 60 votes–a distinct possibility given the number of Democrat’s who’ve compromised with the Republican White House on this issue–it will fail. And the 40 or so lawsuits over civil-liberties violations arising from the Bush administration’s controversial domestic wiretap program will be dismissed.