Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Obama u-turn on telecomms immunity for mass wire-tapping

It appears that Barack Obama has changed his mind about retroactive immunity for telecoms companies involved in the Bush administration's mass, secret, unconstitutional wiretapping program.

During the Democratic primary campaign he made repeated commitments not to support retroactive immunity. Now he is apparently in favour of immunity for those companies.

From last Friday's Washington Post:

""To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies."

-- Obama spokesman Bill Burton, Oct. 24, 2007

That was then: Democratic primaries to be won, netroot lefties to be seduced. With all that (and Hillary Clinton) out of the way, Obama now says he'll vote in favor of the new FISA bill that gives the telecom companies blanket immunity for post-Sept. 11 eavesdropping...

Remember his pledge to stick to public financing? Now flush with cash, he is the first general-election candidate since Watergate to opt out. Some goo-goo clean-government types chided him, but the mainstream editorialists who for years had been railing against private financing as hopelessly corrupt and corrupting evinced only the mildest of disappointment.

Indeed, the New York Times expressed a sympathetic understanding of Obama's about-face by buying his preposterous claim that it was a preemptive attack on McCain's 527 independent expenditure groups -- notwithstanding the fact that (a) as Politico's Jonathan Martin notes, "there are no serious anti-Obama 527s in existence nor are there any immediate plans to create such a group" and (b) the only independent ad of any consequence now running in the entire country is an AFSCME-MoveOn.org co-production savaging McCain."

Dominic Lawson in the Independent is not impressed either but then he's never been an Obama fan. And sadly people have to realise that Obama is not bringing a new dawn. He's just a politcian and he does what modern politicians do - bend in the breeze and tell their various interests what they want to hear.

I would be interested to hear what Larry Lessig makes of Obama's opting out of the public campaign financing system though. Larry, after all, is committed to changing Congress. Not that McCain will be short of funds with lots of "independent" groups apparently spending significant funds campaigning on his behalf. Just don't go expecting massive change in US politics whichever of the two men succeeds in achieving the highest office in November's election. The paymasters will still be looking for their pound of flesh.

Just as Obama has dropped his commitment to dealing with illegal wiretapping, we can expect that David Cameron, should the Tories ever get elected this side of the pond, will drop his opposition to ID cards and other illiberal hi tech surveillance systems brought in by Nu Labour; and for the very same reason - fear of being accused of being soft on terror and despite the fact that the deployment of these systems make dealing with terror much more difficult.

Update: Jack Balkan's and Marty Lederman's posts on the substance of the new FISA amendments are essential reading for anyone interested in the subject.

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