Bush on Telco Immunity: No Compromise

The president insists carriers be given retroactive immunity for warrantless wiretapping of calls and e-mails. 

President Bush refused to budge Feb. 21 on his stance that telecommunications carriers should be given immunity for participating in the president's warrantless spy program. The carriers allegedly provided customer telephone and e-mail records-often without a warrant or subpoena-to the government.

The immunity issue is tied to a renewal of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), which expired Feb. 14. The U.S. Senate approved the FISA renewal Feb. 12, granting retroactive immunity to the carriers. The House version, though, strips away the immunity for carriers.

The differences between the two bills have yet to be resolved between the Senate and House. Bush has vowed to veto any bill that does not include immunity for the carriers.

"I would just tell you there's no compromise on whether these phone companies get liability protection," Bush told reporters Feb. 21 on Air Force One as he traveled back from a trip to Africa. "The American people understand we need to be listening to the enemy."

The carriers contend they relied on existing federal, state and local laws and assurances from the highest level of government to provide access to consumers' personal telephone calls and e-mail without a subpoena. The carriers' cooperation with the government prompted more than 40 civil lawsuits claiming that the carriers violated the constitutional rights of Americans.

"In order to be able to discover the enemy's plans, we need the cooperation of telecommunication companies," Bush said Feb. 13 in praising the Senate version of the FISA renewal. "If these companies are subjected to lawsuits that could cost them billions of dollars, they won't participate; they won't help us; they won't help protect America."