I don't really understand why telecommunications companies that cooperated with the NSA's warrantless domestic wiretapping deserve amnesty. The various reasons in favor all seem to be false. Here are the reasons I've seen offered in favor of amnesty and my understanding of why they're false. If any readers have additional reasons for telecom amnesty, or take issue with my "debunking", please comment. I'm no expert, just trying to nail the debate positions down on paper.
Reason #1 for telecom amnesty: if we do not excuse past law-breaking by telecom companies, telecom companies will not comply with legitimate government requests for information in the future.
Debunking: When presented with a warrant, a company is required by law to comply with the government's request for information. If they do not, they will go to jail and/or pay large fines. Thus there is no danger of a company refusing a legitimate request for information.
Reason #2 for telecom amnesty: the telecom companies didn't actually break the law, but they are prevented from proving so because it would require disclosing classified documents.
Debunking: FISA has always provided for this scenario - telecom companies can provide the classified documents to the judge only, with the judge then deciding the case based on those documents.
Reason #3 for telecom amnesty: telecom companies were acting as "good corporate citizens" by complying with with the government's request for information. Therefore the U.S. should shield them from punishment through amnesty.
Debunking: A "good corporate citizen" would demand a warrant, rather than volunteering sensitive information on their customers. Plus, telecom companies like as not based their cooperation on the continuation of large government contracts.
What other reasons are there in favor of telecom amnesty?
Check out Julian Sanchez's debunking of a Weekly Standard editorial.
Relatedly, Michael Tanji argues that the real solution to domestic intel collection problems is a combination of HUMINT collecting and oversight. I agree with most everything in his article except for two things. First, that telecom amnesty is necessary. Second, that U.S. intelligence couldn't possibly do anything egregious because American intelligence officers are conscientious folks who would not break the law. The senior leadership of the Department of Justice must not have been so confident, otherwise they wouldn't have threatened resignation if Bush pushed for an illegal intelligence collection scheme. Also, I don't think COINTELPRO or other intel abuses can be explained solely by the FBI employing bad people and now they employ good people. Human nature applies to U.S. intelligence officers as much as anyone else - people are more likely to "mind their own business" than raise a stink. That's why the oversight that Tanji writes about is so necessary.