Is the Phone Company Part of the Government? | Harper's Magazine

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Is the Phone Company Part of the Government?


You might assume that in the American market economy, telecommunications service providers are private companies. But the Obama Justice Department, in a strange filing with a federal court in San Francisco, explains that the facts are somewhat different. In a sense, the Justice Department said, the telecom companies are just extensions of one big, happy government family: their communications with the government are interagency communications and are entitled to secrecy.

The communications between the agencies and telecommunications companies regarding the immunity provisions of the proposed legislation have been regarded as intra-agency because the government and the companies have a common interest in the defense of the pending litigation and the communications regarding the immunity provisions concerned that common interest.

Now Wired reports that federal judge Jeffrey White has ruled against this ploy, insisting that the government turn over its communications with the telecoms on a subject of vital public interest: securing legislation that grants the telecoms immunity for participating in an illegal surveillance scheme engineered by the Bush Administration. Rather than comply with the court’s order, the Obama Justice Department is now seeking an emergency stay while it continues the crusade for secret government that is immune to accountability for criminal misconduct. They’ve made such a commotion over this that expectations over the texts are now running high. Did they have a shared checklist on how to compromise or corrupt members of Congress? Was Justice promising to compromise criminal investigations in exchange for votes on the floor?

By the way, one telecom declined to participate in the Bush Administration’s warrantless surveillance scheme: Denver-based Qwest Communications. Within a short period of time, the Bush Justice Department opened a criminal investigation targeting the CEO who made this decision, Joseph Nacchio. He was charged and convicted of insider trading. This week, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from his conviction.

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