NSA Boss Asks Congress For Blanket Immunity For Companies That Help NSA Spy On Everyone (Techdirt)
Tuesday June 18th, 2013
This will come as no surprise to anyone, but NSA boss General Keith Alexander is pestering Congress for a new law which would provide blanket immunity for companies helping the NSA collect data on everyone.
Gen. Keith Alexander has petitioned Capitol Hill for months to give Internet service providers and other firms new cover from lawsuits when they rely on government data to thwart emerging cyberthreats. Basically, he's arguing that if the NSA orders companies to do something illegal, the companies shouldn't be liable for that. There's some logic behind that, because when you get an order from the government, you often feel compelled to obey. But, of course, the reality is that this will give blanket cover for companies voluntarily violating all sorts of privacy laws in giving the NSA data. And, theoretically you could then sue the government over those violations, but we've seen in the past how well that goes over. First, the courts won't give you "standing" if you can't prove absolutely that your data was included. Then, if you get past that hurdle, the government will claim "national security" or sovereign immunity to try to get out of the case. And, even if it gets past all of that, and you win against the government, the feds shrug their shoulders and say "now what are you going to do?"
And, of course, rather than narrowly target this immunity, it appears that Alexander would like it as broad as possible.
One former White House aide told POLITICO that Alexander has been asking members of Congress for some time to adopt bill language on countermeasures that’s “as ill-defined as possible” — with the goal of giving the Pentagon great flexibility in taking action alongside Internet providers. Telecom companies, the former aide said, also have been asking Alexander for those very legal protections. Given the revelations of the past few weeks, this seems like the exact wrong direction for Congress to be heading. We should want companies to push back against overaggressive demands from the government for information. Giving them blanket immunity would be a huge mistake and only enable greater privacy violations.