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Rep. Steve King Cites Contractor Immunity As Argument For Why Telecom Immunity Would Be A Success

By Ben Armbruster  

"Rep. Steve King Cites Contractor Immunity As Argument For Why Telecom Immunity Would Be A Success"

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Today, the House passed an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that provides no “retroactive immunity for telecom companies but allows the courts to determine whether lawsuits should proceed.”

During a House debate on the bill before the vote, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) argued that the telecom companies should receive the retroactive immunity. As an example of why this solution would work well, he pointed to the existing immunity for contractors:

I don’t understand the difference between why we would not want to identify an information company that answered the call to protect America. To me I think those are the closest two comparisons that we can get.

We protect contractors when they went to that smoking hole in that war zone. Why wouldn’t we protect telecommunications companies when they stepped up in good faith and believed that they were legally operating under the law?

Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2008/03/kingcontractor3.320.240.flv]

It’s unclear exactly which contractors King is referring to. Across the board, however, contractor immunity has done little other than shield corporations from gross negligence.

After 9/11, Congress appropriated $1 billion in federal emergency money to contractors and subcontractors working at or near Ground Zero. They were to use the funds “to set up a new insurance company to cover potential claims.” This insurance company, however, is now refusing to settle claims filed by firefighters and cleanup crews over illnesses caused by unsafe working conditions; the contractors claim they have immunity from any lawsuits.

Moreover, as we have seen in Iraq, guards from the private security contractor Blackwater have escaped punishment after killing 17 Iraqis in a Baghdad shoot-out and killing a top Iraqi politician’s bodyguard on Christmas Eve 2006.

More than anything, King’s argument shows why telecoms should not be granted immunity.

Transcript:

KING: You know we’re here not really talking about the issues of rights. I haven’t found anyone yet that has had their rights trampled on. Their rights to reasonable search and seizure as the chairman announced from the beginning. As I look at whats going on here in policy, there’s a situation going on right now in New York in that area where you have contractors that answered the call in the crisis of 9/11 and they’re under lawsuits by the thousands. I think we’re in pretty much unanimous agreement that we shouldn’t indemnify them for answering the call to protect America.

I don’t understand the difference between why we would not want to identify an information company that answered the call to protect America. To me I think those are the closest two comparisons that we can get. We protect contractors when they went to that smoking hole in that war zone. Why wouldn’t we protect telecommunications companies when they stepped up in good faith and believed that they were legally operating under the law. This is — where is this first citizen that has had their privacy violated? I haven’t found anyone yet. None have been brought forward. I sat in hours of classified briefings no one even uttered the name of a person who has had their rights violated.

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