You guys are chatty, so I thought I’d put up some of the Feingold speech you’ve been talking about.
The telephone companies and the government have been operating under this simple framework for 30 years. The companies have experienced, highly trained, and highly compensated lawyers who know this law inside and out.
In view of this history, it is inconceivable that any telephone companies that allegedly cooperated with the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program did not know what their obligations were. And it is just as implausible that those companies believed they were entitled to simply assume the lawfulness of a government request for assistance. This whole effort to obtain retroactive immunity is based on an assumption that doesn’t hold water.
And quite frankly, the claim that any telephone company that cooperates with a government request for assistance is simply acting out of a sense of patriotic duty doesn’t fare much better. Just recently, we learned that telecommunications companies have cut off wiretaps when the government failed to promptly pay its bills. The Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General released a report last month finding that, quote, "late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence." Since when does patriotic duty come with a price tag? Evidently, assisting the government’s criminal and intelligence investigation efforts fell somewhere below collecting a paycheck on the companies’ list of priorities.
Mr. President, some of my colleagues have argued that the telephone companies alleged to have cooperated with the program had a good faith belief that their actions were in accordance with the law. But there is an entirely separate statute, in addition to the certification provision, that already provides telephone companies with a precisely defined good faith defense. Under this provision, which is found in section 2520 of title 18, if the companies rely in good faith on a court order or other statutory or legislative authorization, they have a complete defense to liability. This is a generous defense, Mr. President. But as generous as it is, it is not unlimited. A court must find that the telephone company determined, in good faith, that there was a judicial, legislative, or statutory authorization for the requested assistance.