February 13, 2008

Senate Says Corporations Can Ignore the Law

[UPDATE: see this Salon.com article for a great summary of the position].

For a good while now there has been a political campaign to provide immunity to telecommunication companies that supported President Bush's illegal surveillance of US citizens. This appears to mean that "I was just obeying orders" is about to become a valid legal defense in the USA, and that corporate managers need take no account of the law when the executive branch asks them to take actions without any support from legislation and in clear defiance of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The House passed a surveillance bill in November 2007 that leaves the companies that assisted the CIA's spying mission responsible for their actions. Yesterday the Senate passed a similar bill, but one that would grant the telcos retrospective immunity for their lawbreaking.

The President has lost touch with reality to the extent that he appears to believe that he is above the law, and he now proposes to put the corporations that spied on their customers in the same happy position. Anyone who supports these actions needs to think really carefully: the founders of the Constitution established clear limits to Presidential authority, and if nobody takes the trouble to convince Bush and Cheney that they are mistaken it will be a bad day for us all.

I'd like to see them impeached: if a stupid sexual peccadillo was sufficient to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton's behavior, how much more appropriate is it to do so when a president takes the country into a bogus war on the basis of manufactured intelligence and spies on his fellow countrymen? This is a chance for the American people to show the rest of the world that the rule of law really does mean something in the USA.

This affects us all as technologists: we may be asked to take part in the spying next time (if we weren't this time), and soon there may be nothing to stop us from being thrown into prison merely for failing to comply. This represents the first step onto a very slippery slope indeed, and we need to help ensure that corporations and the executive remain subject to the rule of law. It isn't a party political matter. It's about standing together and taking action when the law which is supposed to protect us all is threatened.

No comments: