The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has bowed to President Bush and approved legislation that effectively grants telecommunication companies the immunity from litigation that they and the President have sought in order to facilitate their surveillance of potential terrorist communications. The Democrats have been placated by language that does not declare complete immunity for the telecoms, but gets them off the hook if they can present what amounts to a note from the teacher. Courts must dismiss any suit from anyone who objects to surveillance if the telecom can produce certification from the government assuring it that what was asked was legal -- as if the Bush Administration would ever say otherwise.
Friends of the administration and this bill have always dismissed objections by saying that only overseas communications with suspect foreigners will be monitored. I don't normally resort to slippery slope arguments, but I can't help but think that the search for suspects will inevitably lead away from known perpetrators and turn toward suspected sympathizers. Ultimately, anyone who's ever dissented from American Middle-East policy and has corresponded with foreigners will become ever more likely targets for taps and other tricks. The powers that be in this country, and Republicans in particular, have a 60-year track record of either failing or refusing to distinguish between dissent and subversion. Just as any Marxist was part of the International Communist Conspiracy in many minds, so anyone perceived as pro-Palestinian or anti-Zionist, for instance, will be seen, or is already, as a friend of terrorists -- and if a friend, why not an ally? Democrats were hardly better than Republicans as far as freedom of conscience and national security were concerned in the 1940s, and they seem to be no better now. Thanks a lot.