Telco immunity issue lingers

There was probably no issue more divisive in the telecom industry during 2007 than the question of whether or not to grant telcos that participated in a warrantless domestic wiretapping program operated by the federal government retroactive immunity for their actions.

While Congress worked on new legislation to enable future surveillance and the Bush administration rebuffed most attempts by Congressional committees and others trying to gain information about the program, telcos were left open to attacks, most because national intelligence director Mike McConnell admitted that the government couldn't have operated the program without telco help. That left telcos open to privacy lawsuits. Congressional committees have so far stumbled with the question of telco immunity.

The issue got even spicier when former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio alleged that Qwest was turned down for government contracts after it refused to participate in the program. It still boggles my mind why telcos are the scapegoats for a program run by the government. If Congress doesn't include telco immunity, needless to say the telcos are in for costly legal fights which could change the course of the financial performance and spending in the year to come.

For more:
- read this story on government/telecom teamwork in The New York Times
- The Senate Judiciary Committee hotly debated--but didn't vote--on telco immunity