Congress can debate telecom immunity but not jurors

As I write this, members of the U.S. Senate are debating whether to forward legislation that would grant some measure of immunity to telecom companies such as AT&T and Verizon for allowing the federal government to eavesdrop on American citizens without warrants.

Much of the rationale offered by telecom immunity supporters is that telecom carriers rightly saw the need, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, to prioritize national security and rapid action over bureaucracy or even civil liberties. But recent reports suggest this activity started even before Sept. 11, 2001.

Some say the carriers shouldn’t be punished for this activity because they were assured by the administration that the program was legal. AT&T and Verizon “are not experts on Article II of the Constitution,” Senator Diane Feinstein said on the Senate floor today, arguing for telecom immunity.

I have a short answer on this issue. I will happily listen to supporters of telecom immunity enumerate all the various arguments justifying and mitigating carriers’ actions in this case. And when they’re done, I’ll simply say this: “If your arguments are so reasonable, why don’t you trust a jury to see them?”

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