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Cross talk

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Last month, a Sprint representative 10 time zones away called to entice me to add more phones to my service plan. What a deal: More phones mean more opportunities for the telecom company to snag my conversations in an unconstitutional dragnet. I fired back via a Web-based form: "I don't want Sprint to do warrantless surveillance." (Clumsy, but I was limited to 52 characters.)

The telecommunications companies chose to abet the Bush administration's domestic spying program—collecting information on Americans' phone calls, e-mails and Internet usage without a warrant. And now the telcos want our—and Congress'—absolution for breaking the law. (To its credit, Qwest didn't participate because company lawyers determined the activity was illegal.)

Unfortunately, Kay Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat running for U.S. Senate, seemingly favors handing the telcos the get-out-of-jail-free card they so desperately want. According to the blogosphere, including "Capital Beat," by Mark Binker of the Greensboro News & Record, Hagan is being evasive on whether she would vote for immunity. (Hagan didn't return a call or an e-mail seeking comment from the Indy.)

Whether she's oblivious or naive, Hagan has aligned herself on the wrong side of the Constitution. As have House Democrats who, while initially refusing to grant retroactive immunity, are now waffling on the issue.

Don't believe the apocalyptic forecasts that say requiring the feds to take the constitutional step of obtaining a search warrant endangers Americans. House Democrats offered to approve other parts of the eavesdropping law but wanted more time to deliberate the telcos' immunity. Request denied. Bush and House Republicans chose to allow the entire law to expire rather than sacrifice even temporary immunity for their telco friends.

And they're not just friends, but apparently superpatriots. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell heralded the telcos as freedom fighters who "helped defend the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks." What next? The Medal of Freedom?

If this type of eavesdropping and data collecting were innocuous and lawful, then immunity would be unnecessary, and the companies would be continuing their work. Yet, the telcos, the target of at least 40 lawsuits concerning the spying program, apparently aren't cooperating anymore. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, McConnell bemoaned, "We are experiencing significant difficulties in working with the private sector today because of the continued failure to address this issue."

As for Sprint's response to my question, I received this message: "I would like to inform you that we do not provide any information without customer request. I would request you to please write back to us with more details."

Well, why not just listen in?

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