President signs FISA–gag me

For anyone who was hoping for a presidential veto of the FISA Amendments Act, it didn’t happen.

Our impetuous president wasted no time in the signing the bill today, only a day after the bill’s passage, in a Rose Garden ceremony. He even gave a speech:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Welcome to the Rose Garden. Today I’m pleased to sign landmark legislation that is vital to the security of our people. The bill will allow our intelligence professionals to quickly and effectively monitor the communications of terrorists abroad while respecting the liberties of Americans here at home. The bill I sign today will help us meet our most solemn responsibility: to stop new attacks and to protect our people.

Members of my administration have made a vigorous case for this important law. I want to thank them and I also want to thanks the members of the House and the Senate who’ve worked incredibly hard to get this legislation done. Mr. Vice President, welcome.

Respect the members of the Senate and the House who’ve joined us — Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl; John Boehner, House Republican Leader; Roy Blunt, House Republican Whip. I do want to pay special tribute to Congressman Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader, for his hard work on this bill. I thank so very much Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Kit Bond, Vice Chairman, for joining us. I appreciate the hard work of Congressman Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Congressman Pete Hoekstra, Ranking Member. I also welcome Congressman Lamar Smith, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary. I thank all the other members of the House and Senate who have joined us. I appreciate your very good work.

I welcome Attorney General Michael Mukasey, as well as Admiral Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence. I appreciate other members of the administration who have joined us. I want to thank the congressional staff who are here, and all the supporters of this piece of legislation.

Almost seven years have passed since that September morning when nearly 3,000 men, women and children were murdered in our midst. The attack changed our country forever. We realized America was a nation at war against a ruthless and persistent enemy. We realized that these violent extremists would spare no effort to kill again. And in the aftermath of 9/11, few would have imagined that we would be standing here seven years later without another attack on American soil.

The fact that the terrorists have failed to strike our shores again does not mean that our enemies have given up. To the contrary, since 9/11 they’ve plotted a number of attacks on our homeland. I can remember standing up here — I receive briefings on the very real and very dangerous threats that America continues to face.

One of the important lessons learned after 9/11 was that America’s intelligence professionals lacked some of the tools they needed to monitor the communications of terrorists abroad. It is essential that our intelligence community know who our enemies are talking to, what they’re saying, and what they’re planning. Last year Congress passed temporary legislation that helped our intelligence community monitor these communications.

The legislation I am signing today will ensure that our intelligence community professionals have the tools they need to protect our country in the years to come. The DNI and the Attorney General both report that, once enacted, this law will provide vital assistance to our intelligence officials in their work to thwart terrorist plots. This law will ensure that those companies whose assistance is necessary to protect the country will themselves be protected from lawsuits from past or future cooperation with the government. This law will protect the liberties of our citizens while maintaining the vital flow of intelligence. This law will play a critical role in helping to prevent another attack on our soil.

Protecting America from another attack is the most important responsibility of the federal government — the most solemn obligation that a President undertakes. When I first addressed the Congress after 9/11, I carried a badge by the mother of a police officer who died in the World Trade Center. I pledged to her, to the families of the victims, and to the American people that I would never forget the wound that was inflicted on our country. I vowed to do everything in my power to prevent another attack on our nation. I believe this legislation is going to help keep that promise. And I thank the members who have joined us. And now it’s my honor to sign the bill.


Present at the Rose Garden signing were:

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.; Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif.; U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey; Director of National Intelligence Admiral Michael McConnell; Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich.; Rep.Darrell Issa, R-Calif.; Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas; Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, Vice President Dick Cheney; Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman; Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, Rep. John Boehner, R- Ohio; Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R- Mich.; Missouri Senator Kit Bond, Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas; Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas; and West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller.

Word count:







Posted in Conspiracies, Free speech, Homeland Security. Tags: , . Comments Off on President signs FISA–gag me

This is your Bill of Rights on the Senate floor turning into toast

This is your bill of rights:

This is your bill of rights on the Senate floor July 9, 2008:

The bill that was supposed to protect us from terrorists allows the government to search our homes, our cars, our offices and keep searching them without a warrant until,… well, they have 7 days to tell the FISA court they are spying on you, then the FISA court has 30 days to review it and decide if it’s proper, then if it’s not proper the government has another 60 days to spy on you while they appeal it. In the meantime if they find what they’re looking for–and they don’t have to tell anyone what or who they are looking for–then they might stop on their own. Or not.

For those 97 days, no one is watching them to make sure they aren’t just targeting you because you are the wrong political party, or the wrong religion, or have a girlfriend or a boyfriend–or the other way round if you are gay–or maybe you have a blog that talks about tolerance and peace, or maybe they really meant to spy on the guy next door or someone with a similar name, and went into your house by mistake.

While they are watching you, no one is watching them.

That’s not supposed to happen. They should have a warrant.

Here’s the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

What is the big problem with getting a warrant already? Someone explain to me how spying on Americans without a warrant is supposed to protect us.

Posted in Election 2008, Obama. Tags: , , . Comments Off on This is your Bill of Rights on the Senate floor turning into toast

Phone bill too high? Use free FISA calling tool to oppose the FISA amendment

The senate is scheduled to start consideration of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 this morning at 9:30. There is still time to make some phone calls to your senators.

If you pay extra for long distance, this tool from Act Blue can help you make phone calls for free. You enter your zip code and phone number and the system calls you back at your own phone and auto dials the long distance numbers for you.

Typically, the way these autocall systems work is that you input your information and the system calls you back within a few seconds. It then chooses the numbers for you to call and dials them automatically.  You can’t see the number you are calling.  The person answering the phone cannot see your phone number either–they see a local phone number, or one with an appropriate area code.

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What the latest FISA amendment would do

With the senate scheduled to consider the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 tomorrow, here is an overview of what the bill would do.

  • First of all, the bill is not a replacement for the FISA courts. The first part of the bill covers surveillance of those who are NOT U.S. Citizens, whether they are in the U.S. or abroad. American citizens, wherever they are, are not supposed to be targeted under the fist part of this law, but later parts cover targeting Americans abroad.
  • The bill contains a lot of weasel language about accidentally wiretapping U.S. citizens, with much use of words like “intentionally target” and “reasonably believe”.
  • The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence have to submit a certification saying they did or will try to apply to the FISA court for approval for the surveillance within 7 days of the date of the certificate. They can move the date of the certificate around later, depending on when the surveillance begins. They are supposed to pay the telecoms for their services. They are supposed to make their requests to the telecoms in writing. They don’t have to say where the wiretapping will take place. They are supposed to keep a copy of the certification notice to the FISA court. The FISA court has 30 days to review the certification and determine whether it is proper and legal.
  • Telecoms cannot be sued in court for going along with this.
  • The government can require security measures from telecoms.
  • If a telecom does NOT want to go along with this, they will be in very deep doo doo and spend a lot of money on lawyers. The “electronic communication service provider”–the telecom asked to wiretap–can request of the FISA court not to do the wiretapping. The FISA court has to assign to petition to a judge within 24 hours–24 hours!–and review the petition within 5 days. If the judge finds the government request to be improper or illegal they can tell the telecom they don’t have to do it. Otherwise they can order the telecom to comply. They have to do this in writing. Then if the telecom still doesn’t want to carry out the wiretapping, they can be sued for contempt of court. If the telecom does not agree they can take it to the Supreme Court “under seal”, whatever that is, probably some sort of secrecy.
  • If the court does not agree with the government that a wiretap is proper, the government can either alter their surveillance to comply with the court, stop the surveillance, or appeal to the FISA court of review. The FISA review court has 60 days to make a decision; in the meantime the government can continue to wiretap. It is not clear what happens if the government “corrects the deficiency”–does the new government procedure then go back to FISA for another review and reset the 60-day clock?
  • Time limits for court decisions can be extended if it’s in the interest of security.
  • FISA will keep their proceedings secure.
  • Reauthorizations should be renewed at least 30 days before they expire. (current projects are said to be expiring in August– is this the rush to pass FISA amendments bill now?)
  • Every six months the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence will submit a report to the FISA court and to congressional intelligence and judiciary committees. The report will consist of a review of how well they have managed not to wiretap Americans and how many citizens ( a U.S. citizen in this bill is referred to as “a United States-person identity”) have actually been wiretapped, also something called “minimization procedures”.

‘(e) Minimization Procedures-

    ‘(1) REQUIREMENT TO ADOPT- The Attorney General, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, shall adopt minimization procedures that meet the definition of minimization procedures under section 101(h) or 301(4), as appropriate, for acquisitions authorized under subsection (a).

    ‘(2) JUDICIAL REVIEW- The minimization procedures adopted in accordance with paragraph (1) shall be subject to judicial review pursuant to subsection (i).

Apparently is has something to do with how the “acquisitions” or recordings are handled. Wouldn’t it be really funny if this was just Newspeak for a zip file on a thumb drive?

  • The Inspectors General of the Justice Department, and any intelligence agencies authorized to conduct wiretapping, are authorized to review how many American citizens were actually wiretapped and also the mysterious “minimization procedures”. The review can be presented to the heads of the intelligence agencies, the head of the Justice department and congressional intelligence and justice oversight committees. The heads of the intelligence entities (aren’t they agencies anymore?) will write an annual review, which goes to the AG, FISA, the head of Justice, and the congressional justice and intelligence oversight committees.
  • But, wait a minute, this isn’t just about wiretapping. In section 703 c 4 we find out that an order approving “ACQUISITIONS INSIDE THE UNITED STATES TARGETING UNITED STATES PERSONS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES” has to specify “the nature of the information sought to be acquired and the type of communications or activities to be subjected to acquisition”. What is an “activity” and how do you acquire it? The FISA court approval document also has to specify “a summary of the means by which the acquisition will be conducted and whether physical entry is required to effect the acquisition”. Physical entry? We’re not talking about planting bugs in telephones here, are we. And they have to specify the “means”? So this isn’t just about wiretapping. It could cover just about any object that could be searched for–emails, computers, papers, even what’s in someone’s medicine cabinet–and inside anything–homes, cars, offices.
  • Domestic spying (not just wiretapping it seems) approvals are good for 90 days and can have more 90 day extensions after a FISA judge reviews the circumstances of what has already been done.
  • Up until this point, this bill does not authorize targeting American citizens, but now Section 704 specifically details the requirements for spying on a U. S. citizen abroad. An American citizen can be spied on if there is a certification filed with FISA or the Attorney General authorizes the spying as an emergency. The identity of the American citizedn does not have to be known. The spying is supposed to stop if the person is known to enter the U.S., but can resume again after they leave. In this type of spying, the FISA judge who reviews the case may review how the information was used, but not how it was collected.
  • The Attorney General can authorize an emergency spying on an American abroad, but has to notify the FISA judge at that time, and file a certification within 7 days. The authorization is good until the certification is obtained or the desired information is obtained.
  • Information obtained without a certification cannot be used in court, or disclosed, unless there is a threat of harm to someone.
  • Civil lawsuits against telecoms are prohibited as long as they have a written authorization–and there is quite a lengthy description here of what documentation is okay to prove authorization–after 9/11 for the wiretap.


Comments and ruminations:

The bill starts out benign and slowly gets scary. After all, who would disagree with a wiretap targeting someone in another country who was not American, especially if they were planning another 9/11? Then we get to wiretapping non-citizens who are in the U.S.–still sort of a gray area, but not that objectionable. Do foreigners have rights? Well, we stuck a toe in the water and didn’t get frostbite, so maybe it’s a reasonable bill after all.

Then we read about all the reporting required everytime there is a wiretap. Reports in triplicate to Justice, FISA, and bipartisan intelligence committees in both houses of congress. Good idea, oversight, accountability. That’s what an Inspector General is for. Prevent waste, fraud, abuse. In some agencies they’re even independent of the agency’s director, which is handy if you want to scrutinize the agency and keep your job at the same time. The Republicans and Democrats will be tripping over each other to make sure it isn’t used as a political tool that can be used against them .

Much has been made of the Attorney General’s ability to make emergency declarations in order to spy without a certification, but it looks like the AG can only do that with Americans abroad and has to make a declaration to the FISA first and follow it up by applying for a certification.

The fourth amendment says no search and seizure without a warrant, but here warrants have been replaced by certifications. What ‘s the difference? Not having to specify the person searched for or the specific place to be searched. I suppose that’s necessary when dealing with the internet and all those anonymous hackers on steroids. It’s been mentioned elsewhere that warrants can be subpoenaed. Can certifications? But a certification has to be listed in all kinds of reports to the executive and legislative branches.

Information obtained by spying on Americans abroad before a certification is obtained cannot be used in court–this is nasty. The American Way is to sue. We don’t war on each other because it’s so much more fun to throw our lawyers at each other. The right of Americans to sue and be sued cannot be impinged upon. Also it would be really nice to try some terrorists and put them in jail instead of having all these foreign covert actions. It’s killing our reputation abroad. I bet if the world found out how much nasty fun lawyers can be, war would disappear forever. Plus if there was some legally admissible evidence, we could think about how to lock up some terrorists legally.

Who is restricted from bringing lawsuits? Not the telecoms. The telecoms can take the FISA appeal court ruling to the Supreme Court. Not the government. The government can take any objections of the telecoms to the Supreme Court. What about any citizens who get spied on? Looks like they might be able to sue the government but not the telecoms. If they find out.


More ruminations

In some ways this a very pragmatic bill, similar to legalizing prostitution or buying and selling pollution credits. Try this analogy. Little Gerogie has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar before dinner time and now has no appetite for the bill of rights. He doesn’t eat the cookies himself, he just gives them to his friends because he doesn’t have a clue what to do about 9/11 and he thinks if they have the cookies they will be distracted and will think he’ s doing something.

Mommy and Daddy are quite busy working double shifts to pay for everything. For instance they’re ten million short for the Denver convention, and they just don’t have the time and energy to do FISA, er cookies right. Besides, once Georgie is off to boarding school, he and his playmates won’t have the opportunity for cookies anymore. And the twins. Little Barack and Hillary both want to go to college, but they can only send one, so Mommy and Daddy are busy with that mess too. So instead of sending Georgie off to cookie boot camp, they want to stop little Georgie from putting his hand in the cookie jar in the first place until they can get him out of the house and have time to deal with it.

So here’s what they come up with. They exchange the cookies for muffins. Harder to get out of the jar without being noticed. Then they say it’s okay to eat as many muffins as possible before mealtime as long as you put a little check mark on the little chart next to the muffin jar. Of course you will have to explain later what you did with all those muffins and count them and so forth, but for now just take the muffins and let someone know you took them.

And if you’re out of the house and need a muffin really quick, here’s a dime for mad money, just have the attorney general call an emergency and you get more muffins as long as you keep putting a check in the box next to the jar.

Of course, now that it’s okay to eat before meals, we don’t want to know about all the friends you gave those cookies to before–I mean, that’s all legal now, so why get upset over something that was not okay before but is okay now.

Hope you don’t mind all the cholesterol–don’t get any arterial plaque or stroke out or anything, now, y’hear?

Stop Retroactive Immunity–Support the Dodd Amendment to FISA

AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint have had some 40 lawsuits filed against them for illegal wiretapping. The FISA bill, which is currently scheduled to go before the Senate on Tuesday, July 8, would give the companies retroactive immunity so that the people who filed the lawsuits against them would never have their day in court. The bill would also legalize searches of your home, your computer, your personal data, and your vehicle secretly and without a warrant.

Senator Dodd is preparing yet again to oppose this bill, as he did when it came up a few months ago–at least the retroactive immunity portion of it.

Chris Dodd has 6 senator cosponsors to his amendment: Russ Feingold, Pat Leahy, Harry Reid, Tom Harkin, Barbara Boxer, Bernard Sanders, Ron Wyden, Teddy Kennedy, and Dick Durbin. He is asking for citizen cosponsors as well. Says his website:

The Senate will vote after July 4th on FISA legislation that includes retroactive immunity for telecom companies that may have illegally helped the Bush administration spy without warrant. The Dodd/Feingold Amendment requires 51 votes to pass, but together we can prevent the assault on the Constitution from continuing.

I thought about it. Without knowing the actual text of the bill, could I support his amendment? And what about the thing with warrantless searches and wiretapping? No one seems to be addressing that. Then I went back and reread Dodd’s Tuesday speech on the senate floor.

What is at stake is nothing less than equal justice—justice that makes no exceptions. What is at stake is an open debate on security and liberty, and an end to warrantless, groundless spying.

This bill does not say, “Trust the American people; Trust the courts and judges and juries to come to just decisions.” Retroactive immunity sends a message that is crystal clear:

“Trust me.”

And that message comes straight from the mouth of this President. “Trust me.”

What is the basis for that trust? Classified documents, we are told, that prove the case for retroactive immunity beyond a shadow of a doubt.

But we’re not allowed to see them! I’ve served in this body for 27 years, and I’m not allowed to see them! Neither are a majority of my colleagues. We are all left in the dark.

I cannot speak for my colleagues—but I would never take “trust me” for an answer, not even in the best of times. Not even from a President on Mount Rushmore.

I can’t put it better than this:

“Trust me” government is government that asks that we concentrate our hopes and dreams on one man; that we trust him to do what’s best for us. My view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties.

Those words were not spoken by someone who took our nation’s security lightly, Mr. President. They were spoken by Ronald Reagan — in 1980. They are every bit as true today, even if times of threat and fear blur our concept of transcendent values. Even if those who would exploit those times urge us to save our skins at any cost.

A democrat invoking Ronald Reagan! But he’s right. Trust is not for individuals–power corrupts–but for the system of checks and balances that make up the three branches of the government.

The truth is that a working balance between security and liberty has already been struck! In fact, it has been settled for decades. For thirty years, FISA has prevented executive lawbreaking and protected Americans, and that balance stands today.

In the wake of the Watergate scandal, the Senate convened the Church Committee, a panel of distinguished members determined to investigate executive abuses of power. And unsurprisingly, they found that when Congress and the courts substitute “trust me” for real oversight, massive lawbreaking can result.

They found evidence of U.S. Army spying on the civilian population, federal dossiers on citizens’ political activities, a CIA and FBI program that had opened hundreds of thousands of Americans’ letters without warning or warrant. In sum, Americans had sustained a severe blow to their Fourth Amendment rights “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

But at the same time, the senators of the Church Committee understood that surveillance needed to go forward to protect the American people. Surveillance itself was not the problem; unchecked, unregulated, unwarranted surveillance was. What surveillance needed, in a word, was legitimacy.

The result of the Church committee, in a backlash against the abuses of trust by the Nixon administration, was the FISA courts. But now this endless parade of bills undermining what was done 30 years ago threatens to undermine the foundations of our nation.

And before we entertain the argument that “everything has changed” since those words were written, remember: The men who wrote them had witnessed world war and Cold War, had seen Nazi and Soviet spying, and were living every day under the cloud of nuclear holocaust.

I’ll ask this, Mr. President: Who will chair the commission investigating the secrets of warrantless spying, years from today? Will it be a young senator in this body today? Will it be someone not yet elected? What will that senator say when he or she comes to our actions, reads in the records how we let outrage after outrage after outrage slide, with nothing more than a promise to stop the next one? I imagine that senator will ask of us, “Why didn’t they do anything? Why didn’t they fight back? In June 2008, when no one could doubt anymore what the administration was doing—why did they sit on their hands?”

Stripping retroactive immunity from this bill is just a start compared to what really needs to happen, but it is a start nonetheless. I’m not happy that this legliation is unlikely to pass, and that if Obama supports it–his name is not one of the 9 cosponsors–it may give him a fig leaf he doesn’t deserve in the upcoming election. I’m also leary of the “contribute” button that comes up so conveniently when you enter the website. How can contributing to Dodd at this point influence Tuesday’s vote? There are other worthy groups doing a lot to influence this legislation. If you want to know who they are, look on Glen Greenwsald’s blog over on Salon.

But yes, I will stand with the senator again, and I will urge others to do the same. If you want to add your voice to Sen Dodd’s amendment, click |here|.

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Senator Chris Dodd offers Amendment to FISA HR6304 with Six Cosponsors–but not Barack Obama

If you check the summary page for H.R. 6304 , the FISA Amendments Bill of 2008, on the Library of Congress’ Thomas site, and go to the amendments page, you will see a number of amendments that have been introduced to the bill.  Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT)  introduced one of them,  S.AMDT.5064. Sen. Dodd has been working on an amendment that would take retroactive immunity out of the FISA bill, but the text apparently is not yet available.

The amendment has 9 cosponsors:

Sen Feingold, Russell D. [WI] – 6/26/2008
Sen Leahy, Patrick J. [VT] – 6/26/2008
Sen Reid, Harry [NV] – 6/26/2008
Sen Harkin, Tom [IA] – 6/26/2008
Sen Boxer, Barbara [CA] – 6/26/2008
Sen Sanders, Bernard [VT] – 6/26/2008
Sen Wyden, Ron [OR] – 6/26/2008
Sen Kennedy, Edward M. [MA] – 6/26/2008
Sen Durbin, Richard [IL] – 6/26/2008

Last week, in response to an email I sent the senator’s office asking for a copy of his FISA position, Sen. Barack Obama sent me an email saying:

However, I am disappointed that this bill, if signed into law, will grant an unprecedented level of immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the President’s warrantless wiretapping program, and I will work with my colleagues to remove this provision.

…but Sen Obama’s name is not on this amendment as a cosponsor.

What’s with that?

Senator Dodd asks for Citizen cosponsors to FISA bill

“Stand with me again on retroactive immunity,” says Sen. Chris Dodd in a new email.

Nijma, (no, he didn’t say “Nijma” but he used my first name)

For the last nine months, when retroactive immunity has surfaced, we have been able to delay its passage.

We were able to stop it in December because I had an army behind me.

Two months later, it stalled again — this time in the House.

And last week, we managed to delay action one last time.

But when the Senate returns from the July 4th recess, we will vote on FISA legislation that includes retroactive immunity for telecom companies that may have illegally helped the Bush administration spy without warrant.
It’s a bad bill and we need action to stop retroactive immunity from becoming law.

I’ve introduced an amendment with Senator Feingold to strip immunity from the bill.
This amendment has the support of Majority Leader Reid and Senator Obama, but it needs 51 votes to pass.

Will you sign on as a citizen co-sponsor of our amendment?
Sign on now!

Together, we can prevent this assault on our Constitution.
Let’s do it one more time. With your help, we can stop the further erosion of the rule of law.

We’ll be in touch soon.
Chris Dodd

Well, I’m a bit conflicted here. Dodd is ignoring one of the most glaring problems with the FISA bill. It allows for search and seizure without a warrant.

And he sends it out NOW? When half of the country skipped out of work early for the holiday and the country is at a standstill?

And then there’s that bit buried in the middle of the FISA bill that says you can’t take this bill through the court systems to determine whether or not it’s constitutional. So should I sign on as a citizen cosponsor even though Dodd’s amendment only talks about retroactive immunity? Is that the list they will wiretap first if the bill goes into law?

“Stop the further erosion…”

The amendment isn’t really expected to pass. It would give Obama a fig leaf to hide behind when he votes in favor of FISA, as he again said today he would do. Another amendment would keep the FISA thing in the news cycle once again–oh, wait, it hasn’t been in the news at all. But maybe forcing a vote would make senators show their colors on this issue. Doubtless there would be discussion of contributions received from telecom lobbyists. Would this be useful for the next election season?

I really have to sleep on this, Senator.

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