TEXT OF STORY
Scott Jagow: Tomorrow, the House is scheduled to vote on re-authorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Part of this is that phone companies want immunity from being punished for violating privacy laws. President Bush has promised to veto bill if it doesn’t include some kind of free pass for the phone companies. Steve Henn explains.
Steve Henn: If telecom companies have been turning phone records or the contents of e-mails over to government agents illegally, there are some stiff penalties on the books.
Kevin Bankston: Title III of the wire tap, and then there is Telecommunications Act.
Kevin Bankston is a lawyer at the Electronic Freedom Foundation. He says the potential fines range from $1,000 to $10,000 for each violation. His organization is suing AT&T, arguing the company took part in a massive illegal surveillance program.
As part of a surveillance reform bill working it’s way through Congress, telecom companies, including AT&T, have been asking for sweeping immunity from these suits.
But Suzanne Spaulding, a former assistant general counsel at the CIA, says that’s a bad idea:
Suzanne Spaulding: Current law grants them immunity already.
Either with a court order or a letter from the U.S. Attorney General saying the government’s request for information was legal. But the Bush Administration says companies won’t cooperate with future wire taps without expanded legal protections.
In Washington, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.