Tuesday, April 8, 2008

NSLs and Telecom Immunity

I know that telecom immunity is less than a hot topic right now, but I think this is worth a post anyways.

The issue at the center of the telecom lawsuits is access to so-called "national security letters" (NSLs) that may or may not have been provided to the telecoms as justification for the Administration's warrantless wiretapping program. It is access to these letters, rather than any claim for monetary damages, that is the motivation behind the lawsuits.

In lobbying intensely for telecom immunity from these lawsuits, the Administration has repeatedly advanced two fundamental arguments. The first is that immunity is required because the telecoms acted in good faith and should not be punished for cooperating with the government on an issue of national security. This argument is absurd and a red herring, however, because the entire issue to be decided by the lawsuits is whether the telecoms acted in good faith.

The second argument often advanced is that the evidence in the case must remain secret as a matter of "national security." So necessary is secrecy, in fact, that not even the judge should be allowed to review the evidence. This argument may seem more plausible, but it really isn't. Indeed, what the administration is saying is that telecom executives and their inner circle of employees are inherently more trustworthy with national secrets than a Congressionally-approved and Presidentially-appointed judge. Moreover, the execs and their employees are so much more inherently trustworthy than the plaintiffs in these cases (none of whom are accused of any wrongdoing) that the plaintiffs should not be trusted with the information in the letters even if it is presented to them under seal and only after a thorough background check.

So there you have it: telecom execs are more trustworthy on matters of national security than all but the highest level of government officials.