US State of the Union Address – Give Telecoms Immunity

The debate over whether or not telecommunication companies should be given retroactive immunity for wiretaps has been one of the hottest topics in the American technology industry today.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

In the recent State of the Union Address, George W. Bush commented that telecommunication companies which holds sensitive information should be protected.

The comments given may likely have stirred the political pot in the United States again. If it wasn’t an issue that spread over party lines, the speech given by the president last night likely pushed it further into a partisan issue.

For those who haven’t followed the debates, for several years, according to accusations, AT&T put a splitter into their network and copied all the traffic through to a separate room which was effectively controlled by the NSA (National Security Association) A whistle blower by the name of Mark Klein submitted several documents suggesting that these activities were going on behind closed doors and without a warrant. Those documents went to the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

The EFF then sued AT&T and wanted the documents to be unsealed and released to the public. The government insisted that it was a matter of national security and that those documents shouldn’t be revealed. After several months sitting in the courts, the judge decided that the EFF could, in fact, reveal several pieces of the documents while not releasing any accompanying private information.

Shortly after, thousands, if not, millions poured over the information presented – many of whom were reporters and columnists. The result was a flurry of editorials regarding the case at hand.

At that point, the controversy only grew, in part, thanks to the Protect America Act of 2007 which amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. By this point, the American government had said that this was only information from foreign users, not domestic users. The evidence released by the EFF suggested otherwise. With determining whether it was for tracking foreign users or if it tracked domestic US citizens, the bill itself says that it is for the purpose of monitoring users whom it is “reasonably believed to be outside the United States”

The EFF is not only fighting telecom amnesty in the courts, but is one of the leading organizations behind the “Stop the Spying” campaign which is urging people to not only contact congress, but submit photos and videos of people opposing the move to allow the telecom giants to legally give internet data to the NSA.

Fast forward to today, there has been a number of attempts to give telecommunication companies, what is known as, “retroactive immunity” whether the information gathered was foreign or domestic. Retroactive immunity would make telecom giants immune to any lawsuit put forth for passing along any information about the movement of users on the internet to the NSA. The move would put an end to the lawsuit AT&T faces in the US courts because anything they would have done to forward any information to the government without a warrant or court order would be legalized.

The Bush administration, and particularly during the State of the Union Address, says that such measures are necessary to protect the country. The Democratic parties response did not address the specific issue afterwards.

Many are saying that these activities by the telecom giant is illegal – namely against the 4th amendment in the Constitution. People against the bill, including Senator Chris Dodd who actively monitoring the story as it unfolds is urging American citizens to voice support for any senator that opposes telecom immunity.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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