Summary of Primary Arguments for Telecom Immunity and Their Counterarguments
(For detail, sources, and other arguments, click here.)
Argument 1 in favor of Telecom Immunity: It wasn't illegal
The activities undertaken by the telecommunications companies to assist the government in surveillance activities at the President's request were not illegal and did not violate any rights of consumers or citizens. Those who have filed civil lawsuits against these companies make dubious claims and have no right to sue.
1. The activities were illegal. The telecoms knowingly violated at least four separate federal statutes.
2. Some telecom companies refused to cooperate because they were concerned about the programs legality.
3. The FISA law explicitly addresses the matter of civil suits, stating that civil action is appropriate.
Argument 2 in favor of Telecom Immunity: Even if not legal, not Telecom's fault
Legality aside, the activity was conducted at the behest of US President and the program was deemed legal by the US Attorney General. The Telecoms acted in good faith and were morally obligated to comply with the requests. If laws were broken, it is the fault of the administration, not the companies who complied out of patriotism.
1. "Good faith" violations are protected by existing FISA law, therefore new legislation specifically immunizing Telecoms is not necessary. In other words, if Telecoms can show they acted in good faith, lawsuits will be dismissed. Why is the legislature even involved in this judicial activity?
Argument 3 in favor of Telecom Immunity: FISA laws are complicated
Telecom executives and lawyers are not experts in this complicated area of Constitutional law.
1. This is not a question of Constitutional law, but rather of Federal law.
2. At least one telecom (Qwest) had the ability to understand the law and refused the administrations demands.
Argument 4 in favor of Telecom Immunity: Telecoms cannot defend themselves because of secrecy
The telecommunications companies who participated in surveillance activities at the government's request — and even those who did not — are not able to defend themselves, due to the secrecy of the activities. It is not fair to allow these companies to face civil or criminal litigation, since they are unable to defend themselves in public or in court.
1. Existing FISA law provides grants specific means for defense while protecting US security.
Argument 5 in favor of Telecom Immunity: Lawsuits threaten financial viability of Telecoms
The telecommunications companies who participated in surveillance activities didn't do so for monetary gain, but rather at great risk to their financial solvency, reputation, stock value, and even the safety of their employees. They face severe financial hardship from defending lawsuits, as well as from possible judgements against them.
1. Telecommunications companies earn hundreds of millions of dollars on government surveillance contracts, and has even cut-off surveillance when the government didn't pay its bills.
2. U.S. Telecommunications companies are worth Billions of dollars.
3. Telecoms spend millions of dollars annually lobbying the government, including contributing to Republican and Democratic election campaigns.
4. Telecoms spend millions of dollars annually launching lawsuits.
Argument 6 in favor of Telecom Immunity: US Govt depends on cooperation for intelligence
The US government depends on the citizens, organizations, and companies to keep the people safe. Our intelligence cannot obtain the intelligence it needs without cooperation. Cooperation will decrease if the litigation against these companies is allowed to continue. Other companies and industries will also be loath to comply with future requests out of fear of lawsuits.
1. If the government issues warrants, the telecoms must comply or they will be breaking the law.