The Good Guys Win One for Transparency


Yes! A U.S. district judge is forcing the feds to make public the lobbying records of telecom companies regarding the congressional debate over amnesty in the electronic surveillance legislation. The victory was won by our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who had made the case that the public has the right to full disclosure before Congress decides on the pending telecom amnesty proposals. In addition to the good news above, the judge ruled that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) must make the records public for a December 10 deadline. Yea, again. Timeliness is important when it comes to disclosure. This means that the disclosures will have a role in the ongoing congressional debate. So far, the House and the Senate committees dealing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) have not yet let the telecom companies off the hook for the illegal spying on American citizens, despite a furious lobbying campaign by the administration and the industry.

Last month, EFF filed suit against the ODNI, demanding any information about telecommunications companies’ lobbying efforts. "(The judge) agreed that the Administration is dragging its feet in making relevant information available and stressed that the public has a right to full disclosure before Congress acts on the pending telecom amnesty proposals," said EFF’s senior counsel in a press release. "The court’s order confirms our belief that aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act is needed to challenge government secrecy."

Calling EFF’s victory significant, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald agrees that it is "vital" that the public know what telecom companies are doing to gain this "extraordinary gift, whereby the entire industry becomes retroactively immunized from the consequences of its past lawbreaking," he adds. "But all of this reasoning applies with equal force to those Senators who have been so instrumental in working on behalf of telecoms to keep amnesty in the FISA bill."

Greenwald said he contacted the offices of four senators at the center of the telecom amnesty issue, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). He said he asked each for a reaction to the judge’s decision and if they would disclose their dealings with telecom lobbyists and executives regarding the FISA legislation. He adds that it’s the very least these senators can do if they go ahead and give "this enormous and extremely rare gift to this industry." We agree.

Yesterday, our board member and friend Craig Newmark, writing for The Huffington Post, raises a very good question. Ronald Reagan "fought a much more dangerous enemy than al Qaeda without resorting to breaking the law like this." If we could defeat the Soviets without breaking the law without warrantless wiretapping…"Perhaps we could do as well." Indeed.