Monday, February 06, 2006

No Authorization Required for Eavesdropping -- So Saith the King

Without recapping every argument about the constitutionality of domestic spying based on this legal precept or that one, a tidbit from the Senate hearings, which I watched from gavel to gavel, caught my immediate ears.

Sen. Kennedy told Attorney General Gonzales that if large telecommunication companies turned over electronic exchanges to the government, they better have written authorization in their files or they could be in big doo-doo.

I'm interested in the telephone companies that assist the government engaging in electronic surveillance," the senator said. They "face potential criminal and civil penalties if they disclose consumer information unlawfully. "
Oops, looks like the senator's warning is tad bit too late for some folks.

Last Wednesday, the LA Times reported Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group that champions the First Amendment and "digital rights," filed a suit against AT&T in California for "violating federal privacy laws" in helping the government spy on Americans.
The suit asserts that in cooperating with the National Security Agency, the largest U.S. phone company violated wiretapping and electronic privacy laws, since intercepting communications is prohibited except where authorized by law.
And look for more lawsuits against giant telecommunication companies in the future. USA Today and Dow Jones Newswires is reporting that Verizon Communications, MCI, Sprint Nextel Corp and others "agreed to cooperate with the National Security Agency's spying without warrants on international calls by suspected terrorists."

Seven corporate executives leaked this inside information anonymously. But hey, don't worry guys, it was all legit, Gonzales and the White House have your back. All you need is their verbal word, although during the hearing Kennedy said something about written authorization, even if you buy their lame excuse about presidential "inherent power."

The Washington Post has a partial transcript of today's session. In mid-afternoon remarks, Kennedy warned about possible legal jeopardy for telecommunication companies who go along with the White House.

He said, officials are only "protected from...liability if they receive a written notification from the attorney general or his designee" specifically spelling out, "No warrant or court order is required by law...all statutory requirements have been met..."

This evening CNN reports authorization was only verbal.

Well, suffice it to say, government and corporate eavesdroppers have now all been duly warned. First during last month's Democrat House hearing -- now by the Senate; and Gonzales may one day regret his flippant answer when asked why administration officials ignored FISA law.
Sir, the short answer is that we didn't think we needed to, quite frankly.
Didn't think...?

Oh, Mr. General, you'd better darn KNOW!

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