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Wed Oct 10, 2012, 11:57 AM

Greenwald: US Supreme Court Finalizes Gift of Immunity to the Telecom Giants [View all]


US supreme court finalizes gift of immunity to the telecom giants

Yet again, the Congress, courts, executive branch and the establishment media work together to protect the nation's most powerful actors

Glenn Greenwald
guardian.co.uk, Wed 10 Oct 2012 16.39 BST

So pervasive and reliable is the rule of elite immunity - even in the face of the most egregious crimes - that one finds extreme examples on a weekly basis. Six weeks ago, the Obama justice department forever precluded the possibility of criminal accountability for Bush torturers by refusing to bring charges in the only two remaining torture cases, ones involving the deaths of the detainee-victims by torture.

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And now, the US supreme court just consecrated one of the most corrupt acts of the US government over the past decade: its vesting of retroactive legal immunity in the nation's telecom giants after they had been caught red-handed violating multiple US eavesdropping laws. Just as the Obama DOJ forever precluded any legal accountability for Bush-era torturers, the supreme court on Tuesday forever precluded any legal accountability for AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and other telecoms for their crucial participation in the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program (the Obama DOJ, needless to say, supported the position of the telecoms).

When the New York Times revealed on 16 December 2005 that the Bush administration was spying on the telephone calls and emails of American citizens without the warrants required by the criminal law, it exposed lawbreaking not only by government officials but also by the nation's largest telecoms. Multiple laws were in place at the time imposing both criminal and civil liability on telecoms for enabling government spying on the communications of their customers without warrants or other legal authority, and that is exactly what these telecoms did. One former AT&T employee, Mark Klein, publicly described how AT&T had even built a separate room with no purpose but to permit the National Security Agency unfettered access to all of its customers' communications.

What was most remarkable about those telecom laws is that - in the wake of the mid-1970s Church Committee investigation finding that the government abused its spying powers to punish and monitor dissidents - those laws were expressly written to prevent telecoms from participating in illegal government spying. They were written with the full participation of telecom lawyers to ensure that the companies' obligations were crystal clear. And most amazingly of all, the laws already contained broad immunity clauses to ensure that telecoms could never be punished for "good faith" violations, but rather only for deliberate, knowing violations of the law.

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This is all patently misleading. Nobody has ever objected to eavesdropping on "potential terrorists"; nobody objects to the "use (of) electronic surveillance to track potential threats in the name of national security"; and certainly nobody claims there are "privacy violations" from eavesdropping on terrorists.


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Reply Greenwald: US Supreme Court Finalizes Gift of Immunity to the Telecom Giants [View all]
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