Users Should Be Able To Sue Tech Companies Over Spying, Says Sen. Rand Paul

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Libertarian hero and presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul tells me that tech companies should not be granted legal immunity from consumers suing them over government spying. The Patriot Act infamously gave telecommunications companies immunity from being sued for allowing Intelligence agencies to tap phone and Internet lines.

NSA head General Keith Alexander is pressuring Congress to extend even more vague protections for tech companies, but Paul hints that Google, Facebook and Twitter should have to pay for any illicit programs. “I don’t like immunity. I think, really, you should honor your contract,” Paul told me at the State of The Net Conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Paul did not offer more details about how exactly this opinion could enter legislation. Tech companies are often compelled to turn over data and gagged from speaking about the coerced cooperation. In other instances (if they are to be believed), tech companies were unaware of surveillance of undersea cables.

Still, in other instances, tech companies could be more cooperative with agencies on activity that is eventually deemed illegal. The immunity of telecom companies was upheld in Hepting v. AT&T, but both Paul and the NSA feel there isn’t sufficient coverage for this latest spying scandal.

“This is something they [tech companies] may not like me for, but we made a mistake in the Patriot Act by saying that we immunize the telephone companies and Internet people from being sued. I want a contract with Google and I want them to adhere to that contract.”

Notably, if either Paul’s bill to end bulk collection passes, or his lawsuit against the NSA is upheld, this might not be much of an issue.

Interestingly enough, however, Paul said that there should not be any government restrictions on the way tech companies collect personal data, so long as users agree to it. Google especially has come under intense scrutiny for changing the way they treat user data, despite notifying users. Paul, it appears, will be a friend to the big tech companies when it comes to privacy regulations.

We’ll have more on our interview with Senator Paul on Libertarianism and Silicon Valley soon.

[Image Credit: Flickr User Gage Skidmore]