Vice President Cheney on FISA

By January 23, 2008Briefly Legal, Communications

The Vice President’s remarks at the Heritage Foundation.

On the specific question of immunity for the telecommunications companies that agreed to the federal government’s formal request to assist in foreign surveillance:

the law should uphold an important principle: that those who assist the government in tracking terrorists should not be punished with lawsuits. We’re asking Congress to update FISA and especially to extend this protection to communications providers alleged to have given such assistance any time after September 11th, 2001. This is an important consideration, because some providers are facing dozens of lawsuits right now. Why? Because they are believed to have aided the U.S. government in the effort to intercept international communications of al Qaeda-related individuals.

We’re dealing here with matters of the utmost sensitivity. It’s not even proper to confirm whether any given company provided assistance. But we can speak in general terms. The fact is, the intelligence community doesn’t have the facilities to carry out the kind of international surveillance needed to defend this country since 9/11. In some situations there is no alternative to seeking assistance from the private sector. This is entirely appropriate. Indeed, the Protect America Act and other laws allow directives to be issued to private parties for intelligence-gathering purposes.

As Attorney General Mukasey has said, “Even if you believe the lawsuits will ultimately be dismissed, as we do, the prospect of having to defend against these massive claims is an enormous burden; the companies also may suffer significant business and reputational harm” from allegations they cannot even respond to publicly. One might even suppose that without liability protection for past activities to aid the government, the private sector might be extremely reluctant to comply with future requests from the government — even though the requests are necessary to protect American lives. That risk is unacceptable to the President. It should be unacceptable to the United States Congress. Liability protection, retroactive to 9/11, is the right thing to do. It’s the right way to help us prevent another 9/11 down the road.

UPDATE (2:40 p.m.) Washington Post story on the Cheney speech, Senate developments. A balanced report, albeit with an inflammatory headline.

Leave a Reply