Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Congress Ignores Individual Privacy

"Wider Spying Fuels Aid Plan for Telecom Industry" - that's the headline of this article from the New York Times (via CNET). In a sane world, that type of headline would be appropriate for an article describing legislation designed to help telecoms fight hackers who are spying on their networks, or avoid industrial espionage by unscrupulous rivals. In this world though, the headline is about a plan to grant telecoms retroactive immunity from lawsuits for spying on American citizens. Previously, it had been thought that telecoms had helped the Bush administration spy on American citizens as part of the government's counterterrorism operations - activities that have led to lawsuits being filed (see here for more info). The telecoms, understandably worried about losing in court, lobbied for a bill granting them retroactive immunity from suit. Thanks to some political controversies that I'm not going to get into (though you can get details here), the retroactive immunity bill hasn't gone through - which led to the article about wider spying fueling aid plans for telecoms. Apparently, telecoms weren't just providing information in terrorism investigations, they were providing information on everything. In other words, they were engaging in "wider spying." If I were a senator, I would react with outrage. After all, spying isn't a positive good that should be encouraged. However, I'm not a senator, and the senators we do have apparently feel that wider spying is something to be encouraged, and therefore the wider spying, instead of sinking the telecoms' bid for retroactive immunity, actually aided it, the fact that "wider spying" basically means that individual privacy is routinely violated apparently meaning nothing to our elected representatives. A dark day for people who care about privacy.

PostScript: Happily for supporters of rule of law, the retroactive immunity bill hasn't gone through (again, thanks to the political controversies describes here).

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