Poll: Protect firms from liability

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A new national poll has found that the public wants the federal government to offer additional liability protection to information technology companies that provide homeland security solutions for the government.

The poll, commissioned by the Information Technology Association of America and released Sept. 10, found that the public supports quick action to resolve legal liability issues and put in place the best possible homeland security technologies.

One of the issues holding up the homeland security bill making its way through Congress is whether the federal government should protect IT companies from liability problems. ITAA officials and others argue that companies cannot afford to take the risk of providing homeland security solutions unless they have extra protection against lawsuits.

"The American people want to feel safe now," said Harris Miller, president of ITAA. "To achieve a high degree of homeland security, we need the best available high-tech solutions from the nation's best and brightest high tech firms. Congress must act now to grant risk sharing so that our leading high-tech companies can get on with the business of protecting the American people."

A survey of 800 registered voters found that they supported risk-sharing by a better than 2-to-1 margin. Half of those surveyed said they approved of the way Congress is handling the homeland security issue, but more than half said that any legislation creating a new Homeland Security Department would be a failure if it did not address the liability issue.

Other findings include:

* Sixty-six percent said they would be more likely to travel if they knew that the most advanced anti-terrorism technology was in place at airports, seaports and other transportation centers.

* Sixty-seven percent said making sure the best anti-terrorism technology was more important to them than overall tort reform.

The House version of the legislation bars any claims against IT companies beyond the insurance they are able to purchase on the open market. The Senate version, introduced by Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), takes a different approach by proposing that an executive order protect companies from additional liability claims.

Neither proposal would cost the government any money, according to ITAA's David Colton. In the past, the federal government has stepped in to limit liability in cases involving military action, space exploration or other high-risk state-sponsored ventures.

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