October 11th, 2007

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The Old Issue . . . .

Today at Committee mark-up for FISA, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) introduced an amendment that would give the telephone companies retroactive immunity for their cooperation with the federal government in domestic spying. A lawsuit is currently pending against the telcos that they violated specific provisions of the Communications Act that prohibit Bells from disclosing customer premise network information (CPNI) without a warrant or consent from the subscriber.

As an aside, I am curious what libertarians think of this law. While it pevents the Telcos from turning this information over to the government (usually regarded as a plus), it is primarily designed to prohibit the Bells from usng the info for marketing purposes or selling the info on the free market (usually regarded as bad and a restriction of the corporate First Amendment right, which in a strict constructionist view should trump the incohate and entirely unmentioned in the Constitution right of privacy. And besides, no one forces you to subscribe to a phone service). And, in fact, the Bells have raised this First Amendment argument in their court case.

In any event, the amendment was defeated on a 20-14 party line vote, with a threat of a Bush veto if the revised FISA does not include retroactive immunity for the Bells (I suppose I would admire his loyalty were it not designed to shield his friends from deserved liability for knowingly violating the rights of their subscribers). I was particularly struck by this quote from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex) as reported in Communications Daily:
It's common sense to provide liability protection to communications providers that helped the U.S. government in good faith. These companies deserve our thanks. They don't deserve a flurry of lawsuits.

I, of course, was under the impression that the reason we had laws like this was precisely so that large companies with monopoly control over the means of communication could not work cozily with the government to circumvent our civil rights. Silly me.

In any event, I could not help but keeping humming Leslie Fish's tune for Kippling's poem "The Old Issue." I reproduce it below the cut. It is frighteningly prophetic.
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    The Old Issue Kippling/Fish