Friday, February 15, 2008

Secrecy bailout

Why is the White House afraid to let our courts determine if telephone companies are liable for damages for revealing the private phone records of innocent U.S. citizens? The Bush administration's insistence on retroactive immunity for phone companies that have cooperated with the government's warrantless surveillance program smacks of pandering to business at the expense of citizens' privacy rights. The issue was the controversy du jour in Washington today as the House of Representatives refused to reauthorize the Protect America Act, which permitted wiretaps without permission from a secret national security court set up in 1978 specifically for that purpose. Democratic Party leaders in the House said they had not actually refused to reauthorize the law but needed more time to get a bill together. The House adjourned for a 12-day recess and Bush left for a 5-nation trip to Africa. The Senate passed a reauthorization bill on Tuesday. But the White House played the national security card today, with Bush accusing the Democrats of making it "harder for us to protect you, the American people." Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence, said in a Washington Post article Friday that the government was finding it more difficult to get cooperation from phone companies without the immunity in place. But Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, a leading Democrat, called the administration's rhetoric "a scare tactic" designed to "keep Americans in the dark about the administration's massive lawbreaking," according to the Reuters international news service.

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