Law Enforcement Says Backs FISA Immunity

By December 4, 2007Briefly Legal

Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) mentioned several letters from law-enforcement associations yesterday in his call with bloggers about legislation to revise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. These law-enforcement groups support an improved FISA, and they are clear on the importance of protecting telecom companies that cooperate with the federal government’s requests. Immunity from litigation for that assistance is critical.

A letter to Senate Judiciary Chariman Patrick Leahy, Nov. 6, 2007, from the FBI-NEI, the FBI-National Executive Institute Associates.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee gets set to consider legislation that would update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the Law Enforcement Executive Development Associates wishes to express its support for Section 202 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2007. This section is of particular importance to FBI NEIA and law enforcement in general because it will have a significant impact on the cooperative relationship between government and the private sector in relation to public safety.

Section 202 provides much needed relief from mass tort litigation relief to telecommunications companies that helped protect our nation after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. Should this narrow provision not be adopted, we believe that all levels of law enforcement will suffer by losing the cooperation of vital allies in our ongoing fight against crime. Businesses may feel compelled to avoid the risk of litigation by declining to cooperate with law enforcement even though they have every reason to believe the request is lawful.

In the weeks following the 9/11 attacks, some telecommunications companies were apparently asked by the President for their assistance with intelligence activities, aimed at preventing similar attacks in the future. These companies were assured that their compliance was necesary and deemed lawful by the Attorney General. Upon complying with the government’s request and providing information that would keep the American people safe; [sic] these companies now face the prospect of years of litigation, even though they cannot defend themselves in court due to the highly classified nature of the governmental program they were assured was legal.

The issue is so clear: This country should not punish citizens — individual or corporate — who out of good faith and with the full legal assurance of the government help prevent terrorists from killing Americans. Punishing them by years and years of civil litigation will have a profoundly chilling affect on future requests for cooperation.

That’s not just industry saying so, it’s the Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and national leaders in law enforcement.

Additional letters:

  • National Troopers Coalition
  • National Sheriffs’ Association
  • International Association of Chief of Police.
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