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Tag Archive: FISA

The Good Guys Win One for Transparency

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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."

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Why Did Verizon and AT&T Executives Suddenly Swoon for a Senator?

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Ryan Singel of the Threat Level blog discovers a curious phenomenon: Between 2001 and 2006, high level executives of AT&T and Verizon contributed hardly any money at all to the campaigns of Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Starting in March 2007, they apparently discovered a real affinity for him, writing checks totaling some $48,500 to the West Virginia senator's campaign committee. Perhaps that's because Rockefeller had come around to their views:

Both companies are being sued for allegedly turning over billions of calling records to the government, while AT&T is also accused of letting the National Security Agency wiretap phone calls and its internet backbone. A federal judge in California allowed the suits regarding the eavesdropping to continue despite the government's attempt to have the suits thrown out on the grounds they will endanger national security. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed that decision in August. The judges seemed reluctant to toss the cases, but have yet to issue a ruling. On Thursday evening, the Rockefeller-led Senate Intelligence Committee is marking up a bill to re-amend the nation's spy laws. While the text of the bill has not yet been released, the bill reportedly includes a way for the telecoms to escape the litigation against them.
The legal immunity for telecoms was included in the bill. Ellen Miller had previously noted the industry's clout with Congress--"the telecom industry has spent $24 million lobbying Congress so far this year, and almost $52 million lobbying in 2006. In the two-year 2006 cycle, the latest cycle on record, the industry gave over $6.4 million dollars in political contributions to the House and Senate." Always worth remembering that those millions end up in the coffers of particular politicians at particular times. By the way, all the numbers cited here and above come from the invaluable OpenSecrets from the Center for Responsive Politics--the ultimate scorecard for following politics.

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Telecom’s Got Some Dollars in the Fight

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I've been following the issue of whether the telecommunications companies will get their desired immunity in the update to the foreign surveillance law. Last week, Bush said he would not sign any bill that did not provide retroactive immunity for them.

The House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees have so far resisted Bush's efforts to protect the telecom companies and voted down an amendment that would add telecom amnesty to the bill. The ACLU and other civil libertarian and watchdog groups have said they expect telecom companies to keep personal information private, and if they break the law, be held accountable.

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