WASHINGTON, D.C. - Telecommunications companies that allowed the federal government to listen in on private telephone calls without warrants after 9/11 should not be immune from legal action, the attorneys general of four states recently argued to Congress.
The group submitted the testimony last week to the Senate Judiciary Committee. President Bush is seeking full immunity for all involved companies in a Senate bill, but the attorneys general claim that granting it would kill an investigation into them.
"This immunity proposal is overbroad and overreaching -- concealing possible illegal activity and undermining state authority," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. "Immunity will prevent states from seeking the truth: Did telecommunications companies break the law and violate consumer privacy by providing information without warrants? A vote for this immunity provision is a vote against accountability."
Joining Blumenthal are William Sorrell of Vermont, Steven Rowe of Maine and Anne Milgram of New Jersey.
Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft wrote in an editorial that the companies should not suffer because of the government's actions.
"Long-standing principles of law hold that an American corporation is entitled to rely on assurances of legality from officials responsible for government activities," he wrote.
"The public officials in question might be right or wrong about the advisability or legality of what they are doing, but it is their responsibility, not the company's, to deal with the consequences if they are wrong."
Blumenthal says Bush violated the federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act when he asked the nation's major telecommunications company to wiretap individuals without warrants. He adds that the various actions against those companies have been consolidated into a single case in federal court for the Northern District of California.
That case will die if immunity is granted.
"Much is at stake: The right to privacy, the requirement for judicial approval of a warrant, the right of states to enact and enforce their laws," he said. "Immunity will deny Connecticut residents those rights by blocking lawful state investigations -- and give the companies secrecy."