No Blanket Immunity For Illegal Surveillance, CCIA’s Black Tells Senate Panel

October 31, 2007

“Proposed reforms to the federal government’s wiretapping powers must protect the Constitution while providing industry with clear rules regarding under what circumstances it must aid government surveillance efforts”, CCIA President & CEO Ed Black told a Senate panel this morning.

Black also testified against retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies who allegedly illegally spied on Americans at the government’s request, arguing that promises of immunity would allow government agents to coerce other companies into illegal acts in the future.

“The Internet is an unprecedented and unique force for democratic change and socio-economic progress,” Black said in prepared remarks. “Increasingly, our nation’s digital economy depends on the dynamism and openness of the Internet. That functionality is jeopardized if surveillance activities result in the chilling of free speech. Internet functionality is further jeopardized if end users lose confidence in the security of their business and personal transactions online. The Fourth Amendment is key to preserving that privacy and network security.”

Black urged the Committee to reject attempts to grant retroactive immunity to companies that may have violated U.S. law in their surveillance efforts on the government’s behalf. Congress, he said, should limit damages available to plaintiffs rather than letting courts dismiss lawsuits that could bankrupt defendants.

“To be sure, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) requires the assistance of private communications companies. But those companies must be free to insist on constitutionally solid procedures that are clear and transparent, so they are not reduced to guesswork about the applicability of immunity under the FISA statute,” Black said. “Clear lines of separation and differentiation between public sector and private sector roles in surveillance activities are therefore essential to a robust Internet and a free society. Congress must establish bright, constitutional lines identifying industry’s responsibility.”

For copies of the testimony click here.

To view webcast of testimony please follow instructions from Committee Site here.

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