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KAI RYSSDAL: President Bush had a couple of things he wanted to talk about during his press conference today. More money to fight AIDS. How he’s not all that interested in another economic stimulus package. And mostly why he wants Congress to pass his warrantless wiretapping program.
PRESIDENT BUSH: You cannot expect phone companies to participate if they feel like they’re going to be sued. I mean, it, it’s… These people are responsible for shareholders. They’re private companies.
Congress and the White House have been going back and forth over this topic for more than a year now. An extension of what’s called the Protect America Act expired almost two weeks ago. The administration wants retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that have handed over customer calling records since September 11. Some Democrats in the House don’t.
The president’s message today was pretty simple. He promised them it’d be okay.
PRESIDENT BUSH: The government said to those alleged to help us that it is in our national interest and it’s legal.
PHIL WEISER: The companies thought they were on solid grounds when they acted, they just never thought that the word of the executive branch wouldn’t be good enough. And so that’s going to be an important precedent if it does get litigated.
Phil Weiser’s a professor of law and telecommunications at the University of Colorado. We called him because, well, nobody here is a lawyer. He reminded us that while many phone companies did give the government what it wanted, one of them, Qwest, didn’t.
PHIL WEISER: Because Qwest did not provide information that underscores that the other companies that did provide information were making an affirmative choice. And going forward the attitude of these companies may well be more concerned about their customers privacy interests and less accommodating to the government’s requests.
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