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Big Brother Is Watching You

There are two big stories in the Washington area today -- the Obama and McCain sweeps of the Potomac Primaries and the monumental traffic snarl brought on by an unrelenting ice storm. But the story that has energized our Readers Who Comment today is the Senate's approval of legislation that would expand the government's clandestine surveillance powers.

As passed by the Senate yesterday afternoon, the law would give the government greater powers to eavesdrop in terrorism and intelligence cases without obtaining warrants from a secret court. As Paul Kane reports, it would also provide immunity from lawsuits for telecommunications companies that cooperated with intelligence agencies in domestic spying after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. That's the sticking point, because the House so far has refused to go along with the immunity provision. President Bush supports the Senate bill and has said he would not sign an extension of a temporary law that expires Friday.

And just to keep score on where the Senate's presidential candidates stood, Barack Obama voted against the immunity provision, John McCain voted for it, and Hillary Clinton did not vote; she was campaigning. Many who commented got the votes wrong; many others tried in this long string to correct the errors, sometimes incorrectly.

In summary, we have several hundred comments from readers who are mostly angry about what they see as a serious infringement on basic rights. There are certainly some who defend the Senate's action and picture those who opposed it as wimpy, but they are a small minority as of this writing.

We'll start with preich1, who said, "The scarey thing about this is with Watergate and the wiretapping of the Democratic headquarters, it was just the President and his team. Now we have an entire governmental conspiracy, the President, the Congress and the Justice Department... a sure foundation for the Orwellian society. Just think what might happen if their is another attack on this soil, complete Totalitarianism."

But leewifflestin, one of those who wrote shortly after the story broke, observed that "Every post here is by a far-left loony. The reason 67 senators voted for this (in a Democratic-party controlled Congress) is because most reasonabale Americans believe that desperate times required desparate measures." said, "One day I hope I can lend an illegal hand to illegal activites perpetrated by the government and then get immunity after the fact for knowingly breaking the law. This is disgusting."

johnnormansp said, "Just look how 9-11 has cowered a once proud nation. Shame on these senators."

xira wrote, "Separation of church and state was the first step. Now we need separation of telecoms and state... or better still, in general, business and state otherwise known as neo-fascism."

lichtme said, "This nation is definitely not the land of the free or the home of the brave. Of the dozen reasons to applaud our demise, this ranks #1: we live in totalitarian state now. We have traded "security" for liberty, and have neither."

dmarble wrote, "Y'know, I consider myself middle-of-the-road politically, and even as such, I find the Senate's voting to grant immunity to telecoms for past unlawful conduct to be absolutely sickening. Why did I bother to vote Democrat last year if this is all we can expect?... I am disgusted."

But lure1 was disgusted for another reason in writing, "Excellent. Let the traitorous left wing kooks howl. These nuts are more afraid of their own gov't than our murderous enemies. And yet they still want the gov't to fix all our social ills."

Mnnngj suggested that "Bribes work. The phone companies pour millions into the pockets of these looters who go to bat for them. They even pass laws to make the bribes so-called legal. They call it lobbying. Citizens know what bribes are..."

hpdcopsx2 wrote, "And the erosion of our rights, at the hands of the Bush Administration, continues--and our Senators in both parties do nothing to stop it. Malfeasance at its worst..."

deckeraaa said that "The real criminals are those who asked the companies to break the law. Of course, they are not being held accountable."

But parnum asked, "...Why exactly would you penalize those who helped root out terrorists and their money train? Oh yeah, we have people that want the government to fail to detect the next big terrorist plan. And we have them right in the heart of our government!
One person, please, go over again what 'rights' I gave up. Or how you have been harmed?..."

TomIII said, "The only real purpose for warrantless wiretaps is to do wiretaps that you know a judge would not allow. Like wiretaps of Democratic headquarters. And don't say it couldn't happen..."

Last word goes to SisyphusinSoho who wrote, "what is not mentioned is that the court authorizing the taps had never refused authorization. This senatorial capitulation to the right removes yet another potential firewall between the president - any president - and unbridled executive power."

All comments on the Senate action are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  February 13, 2008; 8:45 AM ET
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Posted by: bpzov2qd69 | February 20, 2008 8:52 PM | Report abuse

It should be remembered by all who consider this issue that the only real effect of allowing the Protect America Act to expire is to allow about 40 lawsuits in which the telecoms are accused of participating in a scheme to warrentlessly wiretap American citizens to go forward. In these lawsuits they will have to submit to a process called "discovery", where evidence of criminal wrongdoing can be entered into the public record and their culpability or lack of same can be determined by a judge.

Immunity would stop this process cold, and any evidence of crime would be buried along with the fourth amendment. Guilty players in this would not only go unpunished, but would have no fear of continuing their crimes, hidden away behind the skirts of the telecoms.

America IS the Constitution. The President swore to defend it against all enemies, not to become one. Hacking away the parts you find troublesome will eventually produce a nice lace doylie, but not much else worth having. If evidence of crime exists, it should be made public and that crime pursued wherever it may lead, even to the office of the President himself.

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If anyone is above the law,(has immunity from the law) then there is no law.

How can we all be created equal if some have immunity and exist in the land of no public record and others do not. We are supposed to TRUST them ?

How can an industry be immune from the law?
Will they now be an arm of the government? Do Verizon and sprint get a cabinet seat?

Companies who cannot get my phone bill right no matter how many times we call them, and go over the same things that they said they would do, it is never done. At least the people we talk to in India are polite, although they can't do anything either.

Lets entrust our national security to them.

An industry that must be protected from some poor individual who lost his job, license, ability to get a passport or on a plane because someone misspelled his/her last name.

He may not have his day in court. We will never know about it. IF we go looking for monsters, each of us will percieve monsters based on our own experiential perspectives.

When wiretapping was illegal our government wiretapped Dr. Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and considered John Lennon a national threat.

Watergate, the McCarthy era with all of the lifes it ruined will be totally covert, and legal, and no one will even know what happened.

Once a power is granted it will never be taken away. I don't understand how we can do these things so swiftly without people even realizing, or public outcry or hearings, etc.

IF this bill and others that legalize illegal activities pass, The terrorists have allready won.

They have bombed and stolen our democracy. Making us too afraid to trust in its' principles of checks and balances,
Selling it out, because ONLY The government powers can protect us from this evil of which we the dumb american public do not know.

Doesn't this sound like what the Taliban and Little Kim say? We know what's best for you and the country. Believe us,believe what we tell you. We would not arrest or shoot these people if they had done nothing wrong. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

The Government is right. It needs these powers. To protect us.

Hmm. History shows us that many innocents are caught up in this net by people who are not able to judge anything beyond their own limited perceptions. Suspicion breeds suspicion.

Don't count the votes, don't question the government it is unpatriotic. Lawyers and their pens are the law of the land now.

Write it into law, make it permanent.
wiretapping americans, their library books, their purchases, who they talk to. What you order from net flix.

You know, they have to keep an eye on us.
Why do they think it is ok to make the Bush administrations' illegal acts legal. He is almost out of there. Let usnot extend his legacy of lies, deceipt, trickery, doing whatever legal or not and then stating it is right.

That's totalitarianism.

Our government is based on checks and balances.
Everyone is subject to the law, Presidents, individuals, corporations, industries.

This is why we had the Farisa court.

Gail Marcum

Posted by: Gail Marcum | February 15, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

"When fashionism comes to America it will be draped in a flag and carrying a cross." It will also be pledging "the terrorists are gonna git ya." The arrogance of this president to blatenly break the law, refuse to open the information concerning this program to the congress or investigative committees while threatening that he won't accept any delays or changes to our representatives while adding fear-mongering dialogue to his public speaches is absolutely unbelieveable. It is our representatives #1 job responsibility to protect our constitution. Many have blatently failed to do so. No proof whatsoever has been shown that we've benefitted from this program at all. Have we caught a single terrorist? There's no way to know until the information is released, at least to the investigative committees. What we DO know is that there are numerous outstanding lawsuits from various peace and activist groups which believed they were spied on.If we allow a policy of 'break the law and ask for immunity afterwards' it's a slippery slope that will eventually destroy what this country is all about.

p.s., although a fan of Hillary's, where was she during the final vote? Nothing, including campaigning should have prevented her from showing up for this one.

Posted by: slgrays1 | February 14, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Everyone is over looking the broader picture.The question is why do they want to grant the Telecommunication Co. Immunity? The President,Vice Pres.and Many members of Congress were aware of the Illegal wire tapping,an nothing was done about it,Until a technician found out about it and blew the whistle.This meant that not only the President had violated the the law but all the Senators did too. This set up the largest Covert operation the U S has ever seen.Bush lets it be known ,to others envolved,(Congress) that he is not going down alone,so thats where the Conspiracy begins.The Republicans don't have to be to concerned, they Rubber Stamp everything that Bush wants.The Demacrats,well they have deep concerns an problems.They have to come up with some ideas to make appear that were not envolved,so what did they do? Get a few senators to go to the floor an make long speaches why Immunity should not be granted to the Telecommunication Company's knowing full well they were voting for it.If an investigation were to go forward in the courts it would find out that the Communication Co.had given huge amounts of money to them an had a avert affect on their voting.They did not want this to be known. This is just another way to circumvent the Law and the Constitution and relieve us citizens more of our Rights.

Posted by: Ray | February 14, 2008 10:27 AM | Report abuse


The Bush spying powers when they become the law will change America's democracy and continue to gut the Constitution FOR DECADES TO COME. These powers will be abused for political reasons and used against Americans for other than security purposes. Democrats are selling out America and contributing to bringing America ever closer to dictatorship.
The rules are being changed and the rule of law is being trampled. AMERICANS WILL LOSE FAITH IN AMERICA'S PROMISE.



The "Domestic Spying Bill" passed by the Senate on 2/12/08 was very bad for everything America represents. By legalizing warrantless spying on Americans, granting retroactive immunity for the illegal actions by the telecommunications companies and removing any accountability by the Bush administration by eliminating any liability for the illegal and even criminal actions taken, the Senate is guaranteeing that the Bush illegal spying programs are never investigated. There is no doubt that the actions taken by the Senate will further embolden Bush to press for even greater spying powers and those being granted will be abused by Bush for political purposes. This very bad law opens the door wider for future political leaders to abuse power through uncontrolled spying on Americans for whatever secret reasons are determined (even those that have nothing to do with the security of America such as expression of free speech, political differences, constitutional rights) and without any accountability for those actions. The past actions of the Bush administration have already proven that Bush, the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress MUST NOT BE TRUSTED.

The "Domestic Spying Bill" enacted by the Senate gives illegal and even criminal actions taken by the Bush administration approval, totally eliminates accountability, further limits the doctrine of the rule of law, enhances the mounting irrelevance of Congress, ties the hands of the next administration and Congress, removes the constitutional role of the courts to decide the legality of actions, continues the destruction of America's democracy and Constitution, and brings America one step closer to a DICTATORSHIP.

The "Restore Act" already passed by the U.S. House of Representatives is better. It provides some more safeguards on the Bush spying powers while providing Bush with more than enough necessary surveillance powers. It continues the idea that the legality of the President's spying programs should be decided in a court of law. It continues the important required balance that has existed for decades between the rights of Americans and allowing for surveillance to provide security for America. This balance will be lost should the Senate version become the law. Bush wants to eliminate this balance, these safeguards and vital American rights.

In the face of seven years of lies, self-serving and failed policies, and actions putting the interests of the wealthy, corporations and the few in power above all other Americans, Bush wants America to believe that his interest is the security of America and that he will not abuse these spying powers. AGAIN, THE MOST RECENT BUSH ACTIONS PROVE THAT HE CANNOT BE TRUSTED. THE PROPOSED 2009 FEDERAL BUDGET CUTS BY 50% (FIFTY PERCENT) THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY FUNDING FOR FIRST RESPONDERS WHO ARE THE FIRST LINE OF SECURITY PROTECTING AMERICANS FROM THE TERRORISTS. THIS BUSH ACTION OF CUTTING FUNDING FOR AMERICA'S SECURITY PROVES THAT HE IS NOT TELLING THE TRUTH AND THAT HE WILL ABUSE THE NEW SPYING POWERS.

Posted by: Saul B. Wilen | February 14, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse

I read many of the comments and was not surprised by them at all. The general public never seems to get all the real facts, and nuances of what is being done. It was kind of refreshing to see so many aware people. One of the problems with our brand of Democracy is that while the Pres. can issue a signing statement or executive order in a matter of moments, but it takes us years of debate and court actions to reverse the damage. Most of the time we have gotten right in the end, but we alway miss something that comes back to haunt us. The Nixon Bush comparison should be taken more seriously as we go about repairing things. The Biggest mistake we made with Nixon was to not send him to jail with his cohorts. There was be a cost for violating our laws, ask any Republican about a drug offender if they should get to just walk away. Bush thinks he has gotten away with his crimes, and will probably pardon hundreds when he leaces office. The good news is he can't pardon himself and we will have a new Atty Gen. soon. Hopefully someone with a vengence for the rule of law, no matter where it leads.

Posted by: Sam | February 14, 2008 2:41 AM | Report abuse

It is fear that changes a Republic to an Evil Empire. And most of the Senate gave in to the dark side. Fools!

Good on Obama for taking the time to try to do the right thing and reject this horrible law.

Posted by: George Lucas was right | February 14, 2008 2:36 AM | Report abuse

who are these 19 Democrats who voted for this new FISA law? what do they care if the lamest of lame-duck Republican presidents wags his finger at them? is the vote count on the Post's website?

Posted by: maj. andre | February 13, 2008 10:04 PM | Report abuse

I am so tired of the president coming before us and in his somber, melancholy voice, telling us that right now, somewhere in the world a terrorist is planning to blow up the United States. It is hard to "pursue happiness" when we are continually scared to death by our government. Either they are complete cowards or they are just too stupid to live. Leave us alone. Most of us refuse to live in a state of abject terror, and the president is beginning to look and sound like the village idiot with his continuous scare tactics. Enough already!

Posted by: beccajo | February 13, 2008 9:23 PM | Report abuse

When did we lose our freedoms and privacy.
The Government has the ability to:
know your location through cell phones, scan cell phone transmittions for keywords,
know when you leave the state by plane, bus or car (licence plate reader at key roads), phone records, things you bought with your credit card, packages shipped by ups or usps, scan mail at high speed, get your fingerprints and DNA from tax forms, track money by serial number (bank you got it from and business that returned it.) See where you go on the internet (latest), see whats on your computer monitor or tv from a few yards, know who you associate with, figure out your hobbies by purchases, figure out your personality type by purchases, and know your medical history.

The bottom line and conclusion about all this is...we are pretty much boring.
300,000,000 people and only a few are interesting.

ID theft screws up their system. That's why they push hard for laws and act as if they really care about you.

Posted by: Razor | February 13, 2008 8:44 PM | Report abuse

It is wrong for the Congress to grant warretless spying. This is what the Nazi's did to thier population, and look at the outcome. Ben Franklin said it best, "Those who sacrafice freedom for security, deserve niether".

Posted by: roger | February 13, 2008 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Amen to that brother.

Posted by: patroticamerican | February 13, 2008 3:35 PM | Report abuse

The politicians we have are the politicians Thomas Jefferson warned us about. It may be time to water the Tree of Liberty again!

Posted by: Dennis12 | February 13, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

I don't believe we should give the government any more power for anything. Because all they do is abuse it. I believe the American people as a whole, should start pulling some of the governments power. It was set up by our forfathers to be a government by the people and for the people. As it is now, it's a government by the government and for the government. I believe the vote of the people should count. And all the deligates and superdeligates, whatever that is, should sit down and shut-up, and we the people need to take our country and our government back. Someone should remind them that they work for us.

Posted by: patrioticamerican | February 13, 2008 3:27 PM | Report abuse

When Hitler came to power, Germany was a DEMOCRACY. The first thing the brown shirts did to change that democracy into a totalitarian state was to eliminate the rights of citizens in the name of security. Only Hitler,(Bush), was strong enough to protect them from the commies,(Al Qaeda) and the Jews, (terrorists). History does indeed seam to repeat itself.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 13, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Democrators running a democracy ?

Posted by: ratl | February 13, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Fascism in action and pure and blatant traitorism to the Constitution, The Bill Of Rights, The Rule Of Law,and to our Civil Consciousness. Our rights are being flushed down the drain. The Social Contract is being ripped apart, not by the people, by the people we elect to look out for our interests. If they want a Revolution, they may get it!

Posted by: ghostcommaander | February 13, 2008 10:36 AM | Report abuse

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