New York Times reported in 2005 about the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping/domestic spying on millions of law abiding U.S. citizens, and USA Today also has reported that the government agency known as the National Security Agency (NSA) has been using information provided by telecommunications carriers to data mine tens of millions of customer e-mails and telephone calling records for data.
The Bush Administration has admitted the wiretapping and e-mail interceptions without legal warrants, using the same rationale it has used for all of its civil rights intrusions: national security interests. The U.S. Congress currently has a bill pending on immunity for the telecom carriers that permitted the wiretapping and interceptions of confidential communications. The House of Representatives version has no immunity for the carriers, while the Senate Intelligence Committee version approved legislation on October 17th that provides immunity under the Senate’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for carriers that cooperated with the Bush Administration.
Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may use what is known as National Security Letters to obtain without legally required judicial review the records of businesses, including telephone companies and Internet service providers. The U.S. Department of Justice's Inspector General found last March that the FBI had improperly obtained the telephone records and subscriber information from three telephone companies.
Three Democratic party U.S. Senators that have announced they are running for the 2008 U.S. Presidency have openly announced that they are against granting immunity to the telecom carriers that participated in the illegal domestic spying program on U.S. citizens. Senators Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have announced that they will block the FISA legislation when it comes up for a vote in the Senate. Senator Dodd has been the most vocal, as he stated, "The president has no right to secretly eavesdrop on the conversations and activities of law-abiding American citizens, and anyone who has aided and abetted him in these illegal activities should be held accountable."
In letters sent to AT&T, BellSouth, Verizon Communications and Qwest Communications, the lawmakers requested the telecoms provide Congress with a detailed account of their dealings with the NSA, including the installation of any equipment on their networks designed to intercept Internet traffic. Verizon Communications and AT&T are the two carriers most frequently named as willingly participating in the domestic spying program, but have balked at providing any information, claiming they are under a federal order not to disclose any information about their activities in the past or in the present with the NSA. This promises to be a good fight with Congress and we’ll let you know as news is forthcoming.
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