Telecommunication companies deserve Congressional protection

Charles Stimson [Senior Legal Fellow, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation]: "The Congress should provide appropriate retroactive liability protection for telecommunication companies alleged to have assisted the government since September 11th. Such protection or "immunity" is necessary for several reasons: it is fair to those companies who responded to the governments' request for lawful assistance; it encourages the private sector to assist the United States in the war on terror, and; it puts the terrorists on notice that we will utilize all national assets, governmental or otherwise, in a lawful manner to defeat them.

The government asked telecommunications companies to assist them in obtaining intelligence information after September 11th. The companies relied on written legal assurances that the President authorized the activities, and that those activities had been determined to be lawful by the Department of Justice. Not only that, it is clear that the assistance was perfectly legal, and that was surely the sound legal advice of the telecom general counsels. To date, there are over 40 lawsuits against the telecoms asking for billions of dollars in damages. It is simply unfair to allow those suits to go forward against companies that were acting not only in good faith, but no doubt out of a sense of patriotism.

Denial of immunity in these cases will discourage other companies from assisting the government in the future. The Senate Intelligence Committee held hearings and studied whether granting retroactive liability protection to telecommunications providers was the right thing to do. After studying the issue closely, they issued a report, that said in part, "without retroactive immunity, the private sector might be unwilling to cooperate with lawful Government requests in the future [resulting in a] possible reduction in intelligence." The Committee concluded that that outcome was "simply unacceptable for the safety of our Nation." I agree."

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