Telecom Firms' Need For Immunity Stressed

Friday, February 29, 2008

President Bush spoke yesterday in favor of granting legal protections to telecommunications companies facing lawsuits over their role in the administration's warrantless wiretapping program after Sept. 11, 2001:

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Referring to the phone companies' need for relief, Bush said: "They're facing billions of dollars of lawsuits."

Five coordinated, class-action lawsuits are pending against the phone companies, but substantial damages would be awarded only if courts rule that they participated in illegal surveillance affecting millions of people, not just communications involving terrorism suspects overseas. If all the claims were added up, the statutory penalties could be $13,000 per person or $200 per person per day of violation.

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Referring to the plaintiffs' attorneys, Bush said: "I don't want to try to get inside their head; I suspect they see, you know, a financial gravy train."

Two nonprofit groups are overseeing the five class-action cases: the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. But each case has at least one for-profit law firm assisting the plaintiffs. At least one law firm is seeking no compensation. There is no prospect that financial damages would be awarded soon.

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