We’ve written extensively about the telecom immunity provisions in the FISA debate out of a belief in good corporate citizenship, a principle certainly not limited to just telecommunications companies. If Verizon or AT&T can be sued for assisting in good faith in the surveillance of America’s murderous enemies, then any company can be sued, legally harassed and discouraged from ever helping again.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), a former FBI agent, made the case on the House floor on Wednesday. From page H891 of the Congressional Record:
This is about white hats and black hats. It’s about good guys and bad guys. It’s about Good Samaritans. You know, there are ads on TV today where they go into high crime neighborhoods and say, It’s okay for you to tell on criminal behavior. Please call the police. Please call the FBI. Please make a difference in your community.
Think of the confusing message we are sending today because we’re hooked up on the size of the company. So if I go in as an FBI agent to find the address that a pizza delivery company has for a fugitive, should we go after them, too? Should we go after that pizza delivery guy for, out of the goodness of his heart, telling us where there is a fugitive who may have committed murder or have committed child pornography or been selling drugs and is in violation of the safety and security of his neighborhood, his community? No, of course not. And we shouldn’t punish people who say, listen, I want to help the United States catch terrorists and murderers, and if you ask me and I’m in lawful possession of it, I’ll share it with you. We do it in banks. We do it in small businesses. We knock on neighbors’ doors every day in this country and say, Help us help protect your neighborhood, your kids and your family. Will you tell us what you saw? Will you tell us what you know? Will you tell us where this information leads us to? It happens every day.
This is about black hats and white hats, good guys and bad guys. Let’s make sure we stand up today for every courageous American who stands up for the safety of the community of this United States. I don’t care how big or how small they are, we ought to stand with them and not make them the enemy.
Today the issue is whether the telecommunications companies should be punished for aiding in the good-faith surveillance of people who mean to brutalize and kill American citizens. Tomorrow, the target of punishing litigation could be Company X, Manufacturer Y, or Industry Z.
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