Blanket immunity proposed for illegal activities on behalf of the NSA

The head of the NSA Keith Alexander has asked Congress to pass legislation that would give blanket immunity to companies that commit illegal activities at the request of the NSA. Alexander explains it this way, “If the government asks the company to do something to protect the networks, or to do something and a mistake is made, and it was our fault, then they should have liability protection for that.”

As Mike Masnick says, this sounds reasonable until you think about it for a bit.

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?”

The net result of such a move would be total immunity for the government and private companies for any illegality.

This new attempt recalls the retroactive immunity that Congress gave the telecommunications companies for their breaking of federal laws back in 2008 as a result of their participation in a domestic wiretapping program. It set the scene for a complete reversal by Barack Obama on this issue. He fought granting immunity when campaigning for the nomination, thus endearing him to the civil libertarians, and abruptly switched once he had secured the nomination. It was the first of many cases where he revealed that he was not be trusted on civil liberties and that he was one of the most vigorous supporters of a secretive and powerful national security state.


  1. Chiroptera says

    Alexander explains it this way, “If the government asks the company to do something to protect the networks, or to do something and a mistake is made, and it was our fault, then they should have liability protection for that.”

    Don’t these companies already spend large sums of money on legal teams that understand very well what the potential liabilities are?

    Sounds like more cover for corporations to just not give a damn.

  2. mobius says

    In the military, supposedly, an officer who gives an illegal order is in trouble. And the soldier that follows that illegal order is in trouble even though he was following orders. At least that is how it is supposed to work.

    But where big bucks are concerned the rules don’t seem to apply.

  3. Scr... Archivist says

    “Well, when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
    — Richard Nixon, May 1977

  4. funknjunk says

    To me, this is just another in the steps to leaving the people with no power over their country’s government, their lives, their destinies. It’s like the whole “tort reform” BS that we get … you have to point out that, as our fascist state continues to develop apace, lawsuits with healthy punitive damages remain one of the only tools for change. They try to inculcate the people as much as possible to buy, buy, buy and vote with their dollars, but not in any area with any real meaning of course. Take that away, along with the Bill of Rights and the power to sue the government, as explained in the blog post above, and the people are neutered. Which is the plan …..

  5. says

    “We’re not doing anything illegal. And to prove that, we are going to give blanket immunity from prosecution to every company that does what we order them to do.” – The US government.

  6. baal says

    Stuff like this makes my want to throw in my hand and give up the game. This persistent erosion of privacy and empowerment of the fedgov is not consistent with a free country. As to why now, I suspect this is part of the back half to a bargain to allow minimal transparency (or someone noticed you can’t have 400,000 private citizen contractors working for the NSA and hide / corral all of them).

  7. says

    There is already an immunity policy in place. When the government orders you to do something illegal, you say “no.” I know, it’s tough. I’m not kidding. That could be scary. But for the multi-million salaries, suck it up.

  8. says

    But for the multi-million salaries, suck it up

    With great RISK comes great REWARD!!!!

    … By which I mean, if I risk you, I get the reward.

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