Immunity for telecom companies protects Americans from terrorism

Charles Stimson [Senior Legal Fellow, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation]: "One thing you don't hear a lot about is the practical side of telecom immunity. Think about all the government contractors contributing to our national security who are fearful that doing their duties could lead to massive civil liabilities.

The point was driven home to me earlier this summer, when I sat down for lunch with a senior executive for a major technology firm. He is retired military and has extensive experience fighting this new enemy. We discussed, amongst other things, FISA modernization. The Protect America Act had expired, and there was uncertainty about whether the 40-plus lawsuits against telecommunications providers would go forward or whether the Administration and Congress would pull the plug on them, fix FISA, and put foreign intelligence-gathering on clearer legal footing.

He told me that his firm had invested hundreds of millions of dollars into counter-terrorism research and development, but if Congress allowed those lawsuits to go forward, his company and many others in the industry would have to cut back on their investments in homeland and national security - the liability risk would just be too great to put their investors' money on the line. The whole issue of retroactive liability, he told me, protection boiled down to one simple question: Do we want American companies, with all their ingenuity, to help the government and military defeat this enemy, or not?

For most Americans, the answer to that question is easy - yes.

That may explain why, in the face of massive emailing, faxing, and phone-call campaigns coordinated by privacy rights groups, fully 87 percent of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and 69 percent of the entire Senate voted in favor of final passage of the FISA bill. They know that it'll take all of America's capabilities to defeat this enemy and that we need private industry investing billions in the technologies and systems that will keep us a step ahead of threats for decades to come."

Charles Stimson wrote for Hotline in January about granting immunity for telecommunications companies.

 

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