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Renewed FISA could protect telecoms

U.S. House of Representatives

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: In Washington, Congress will be hustling to overhaul the rules for the government's electronic surveillance program. The temporary Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, has to be renewed before February. But first, Congress has to decide whether FISA should protect telecom companies from lawsuits.

The government says it needs them to eavesdrop on phone calls and read e-mails from suspected terrorists. But as Nancy Marshall Genzer reports, that's put the industry in hot water.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: Some telecommunications companies have been sued by civil liberties groups, who claim privacy violations. Some lawmakers want to give the telecommunications industry legal immunity.

That doesn't sit well with Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center:

Marc Rotenberg: We don't typically say to people who've committed unlawful acts, "It's OK, we'll look the other way." There has to be some effort to ensure that the privacy laws will be enforced.

NYU Stern School of Business professor Lawrence White is against blanket immunity, but he says the telecommunications companies do need some legal protections.

Lawrence White: They have legitimate concerns about being sued in circumstances where essentially, there are conflicting pressures on them.

White says there's pressure to protect privacy while ferreting out terrorists. Congress will have to figure out how to balance those pressures by February 1, when the law expires.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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