On Telecom Liability: Where Does Sen. Reid Stand?

By December 7, 2007Briefly Legal

The Washington Times asks in an editorial today where the Senate Majority Leader stands on a key legislative issue: Reworking the laws government surveillance of foreign communications by suspected terrorists, and whether telecom companies that assisted in that surveillance after the 9/11 terrorist attacks should receive immunity from lawsuits that followed.

The most contentious issue now being debated is whether to give retroactive liability protection to large telecommunications companies that cooperated with the government’s requests for help in monitoring possible foreign terrorist operations after September 11, a provision omitted from the August fix. Approximately 40 lawsuits have been filed against these firms — and this sends a terrible message to businesses and private individuals who want to help the government prevent future attacks: Do nothing. A lot of innocent people could die as a result, but at least the ACLU and its ilk won’t drag you into court. On the other hand, if you get involved, you had better be prepared to spend years defending yourself in court while legal expenses mount.

The House, operating in a partisan fashion, has voted out a bill with no liability protection. The Senate now prepares to vote.

In October, the Intelligence Committee voted 13-2 for a compromise measure negotiated by Chairman Jay Rockefeller and Vice Chairman Kit Bond that would provide the protection. Supporters of the compromise included prominent liberal Democrats like Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. But the Judiciary Committee has reported out a bill that would deny Americans this needed legal protection. If the Intelligence Committee bill (S. 2248) reaches the floor next week, Mr. Leahy is expected to offer an amendment that would ensure that businesses are stripped of any protection from frivolous lawsuits.

Right now, a key question is where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has yet to take a definitive position on the liability issue, will come down.

And thanks to the Times for quoting from this blog. This is an important debate about what it means to be a citizen and corporate citizen in America today.

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