Law and Order
The lawbreakers are telecom firms which apparently violated existing law by assisting the government in intercepting communications--by some accounts enormous volumes of communications, mostly from one American citizen to another--which they had no legal right to intercept.
Of course, the firms were not the only lawbreakers. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act regulated interception of communications between people outside and people inside the U.S., requiring them to have permission from the FISA court. It seems clear from what we now know that that requirement was also violated on a massive scale, by the National Security Agency acting on instructions from the Administration. Under FISA each such interception is a felony, carrying a penalty of up to ten years in jail. So is the knowing use of information obtained by such an interception--meaning that the President himself is, by his own statement of the facts, although not by the administration's view of the law, a confessed felon.
Oddly enough, while the Administration is insisting that the telecoms be let off from civil liability for breaking the law at its request, it has not, so far as I can tell by the news stories, requested immunity from criminal liability--for itself or the hundreds or thousands of its employees who, under (I think) any plausible reading of the law, are felons.
I discussed what I believe to be the reason some time back in the same context. Criminal law is controlled by governments--you can only (in the US) be prosecuted for a crime if a government prosecutor chooses to prosecute you. Hence the government itself is effectively immune from criminal law if it wants to be, subject only to the risk that some future change of government might result in prosecution for past crimes or that one government--say a state--might prosecute the agent of another. Civil law, while its cases are decided in government courts, is privately prosecuted; a private party, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, can prosecute a civil suit against the telecoms whether or not the government approves. Hence the need for special legislation to retroactively alter the law in favor of the lawbreakers.