21 February 2008

Requiem for the Suspect America Act

This week House Democrats finally did something they were elected to do two Novembers ago, albeit with their trademark passive-aggressiveness and aversion to confrontation with the Bush administration.

In vacating the Capitol for a week-plus recess, the Democratic leadership will kill, for the time being, the Protect America Act and its heinous provisions of legal immunity for telecommunications companies who may have allowed the Bush Administration to collect private information on its customers.

Shielding corporations from lawsuits was a consistent hallmark of GOP misrule during the Bush era. When Republicans claimed to be the "Party of Personal Responsibility," they might have been more clear; they have indeed been the party of shifting the burden of responsibility for corporate negligence onto the individual persons who are injured.

Once again, the Republican leadership and its willing stooges among the Democrats sought to inoculate the telecommunications industry against lawsuits and criminal charges for assisting the National Security Agency in warrantless wiretapping and data mining for alleged anti-terrorism programs.

It's important to note that what is being proposed is retroactive immunity. The White House and the NSA use this term, even though it acknowledges implicitly that the telecoms were knowingly engaged in criminal conduct and now must be protected from the consequences.

AT&T and company, faced with the choice of obeying the Constitution or an administration notorious for skirting the letter and spirit of the law, chose wrong. There was no obligation for them to assist the White House with a program that even many security hawks acknowledge is inessential to intercepting terrorist communications.

We can hope this portends a shift in attitudes on the part of IT companies with regard to their customers' privacy, even that they might glance at the Constitution before giving bureaucrats free rein with their files.

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