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Report: US considers phone companies ‘arm of government’

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The US government doesn’t have to reveal information about phone companies that may have spied illegally on Americans because those phone companies are an “arm of the government,” the US Justice Department argued in a recent court case.

In a lawsuit over the Bush administration’s decision to give immunity to telecom companies over its warrantless wiretapping program, the Justice Department argued that it doesn’t have to publicly reveal what it discussed with the phone companies because those discussions were “inter-agency communications,” explains Ryan Singel at Wired.

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He cites a passage from a court document in which the department argues that “the communications between the agencies and telecommunications companies regarding the immunity provisions of the proposed legislation have been regarded as intra-agency….”

Singel was reporting on privacy watchdog group Electronic Frontier Foundation’s two-year-long legal battle with the DoJ over access to those communications. In 2008, the Bush administration passed a law granting reotroactive immunity to phone companies that had participated in the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

After news reports in 2007 suggested that the phone companies had lobbied the government to have those protections put in place, the EFF launched a freedom-of-information request to have discussions between the Justice Department and the phone companies made public. When the government refused, the EFF took the matter to court.

On September 24, a US District Court judge sided with the EFF and ordered the government to “release more records about the lobbying campaign to provide immunity to the telecommunications giants that participated in the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program,” the EFF stated.

The judge gave the Justice Department until last Friday to hand over the documents. But, late on Thursday, the government appealed for a 30-day stay of the judge’s order. That order was refused, but the judge has delayed any further decisions on the case for another week.

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CONGRESS ‘A MERE APPENDAGE’ OF EXECUTIVE BRANCH?

Blogger Marcy Wheeler at FireDogLake says there are more interesting revelations about the government’s attitude towards constitutional powers in the delay request it filed last week.

“The language attempting to protect agency discussions with Congress describe Congress as a mere appendage to the executive branch which did not, in 2008, have its own distinct constitutional interest in legislation concerning matters in which the executive branch had been found to have flouted duly passed laws,” Wheeler writes. She cites the following passages from the court filing (PDF):

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Given the purpose and role of the communications in the agencies’ own deliberations, the agencies have regarded their communications with Congress as intra-agency documents under the foregoing lines of authority….

…In providing the agencies with information and views about legislative options for use in the development of the Executive Branch’s own legislative position, Congress was participating in a common effort with the Executive Branch to advance the public interest.

“It is a fascinating comment on the state of separation of powers that Congress would be described by the executive branch as a mere appendage to the executive branch,” Wheeler wrote.

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She also argued that there is a fundamental contradiction in the government claiming that companies it contracted to do (potentially illegal) work would be treated as government agencies:

These were telecoms lobbying! Lobbying about programs that brought them and will continue to bring them ongoing business. But by treating the telecoms as agencies for this negotiation, the Obama Administration … is treating this lobbying as part of the task that telecoms have been contracted to do by the government. We are paying telecom contractors … to lobby our government and elected representatives (who are, at this point, just an appendage to the executive branch anyway) to make sure they continue to get that contracted work.

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‘He has no clue’: Internet slams Trump’s ‘breathtaking’ incoherence at coronavirus press conference

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On Wednesday, President Donald Trump gave a barely intelligible press conference on the coronavirus outbreak, during which he claimed he saved America by shutting down flights, appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead a coronavirus task force despite having few qualifications to do so, suggesting his public health budget cuts are no big deal because he can just hire more doctors later, and insisting that it was Democrats, rather than the epidemic, that tanked the stock market this week.

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Trump said coronavirus won’t spread — his scientists said the opposite right in front of him: Congresswoman

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Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL) blasted President Donald Trump after his press conference Wednesday because he contradicted his own scientists on the coronavirus.

During an MSNBC discussion after the Q&A, the Congresswoman explained that it only confuses Americans more.

"He's not doing very well on the coronavirus," she said. "Because the test of leadership is not talking about something you know very little about and he just confused the American people about whether this virus is going to spread. All the scientists said it is going to spread and the president gave the opposite impression. And presidents have to know that when they're in a situation like this with complicated science, they put the scientists, physicians in front of them, preferably, by the way, in white coats, and let them reassure the American people."

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Trump says that the financial markets dropped because of Democrats — not coronavirus

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The U.S. stock market dropped over 2,000 points this week, but President Donald Trump said that it's more about Democrats than the coronavirus.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized Trump for the way he has handled the crisis.

"I think Speaker Pelosi is incompetent," Trump said in response to the question about her. "She lost the Congress once. I think she's going to lose it again. She lifted my poll numbers up ten points. I never thought I would see that so quickly and so easily. I'm leading everybody. We're doing great. I don't want to do it that way. It's almost unfair if you think about it. But I think she's incompetent and I think she's not thinking about the country. Instead of making a statement like that where I've been beating her routinely at everything, instead of making a statement like that, she should be saying we have to work together because we have a big problem potentially and maybe it's going to be a very little problem."

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