FISA telecom immunity survives Senate test

Jan. 24, 2008 at 7:43 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate rejected a Judiciary Committee proposal lacking protections for telecommunications firms helping in government-sanctioned eavesdropping.

The 60-36 vote keeps alive a Senate intelligence panel proposal that would provide immunity to the companies and enjoys White House support, The Washington Post reported.

A floor vote to update the 30-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is expected next week. The bill would replace a temporary measure, set to expire Feb. 1, granted the government broad powers to eavesdrop on the communications of terrorism suspects without warrants.

The White House and most Republican congressional members want to make the law permanent and add immunity provisions for telecommunications companies that assist the government's surveillance effort.

Most House Democrats and civil liberties groups oppose the immunity proposal; but other Democrats, including Senate intelligence committee Chairman John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., favor it.

Some Democratic and Republican lawmakers indicated they may offer amendments providing limited legal protections for telecommunications companies. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., has threatened to filibuster any version of the bill that includes immunity, the Post said.

Any bill passing the Senate must be reconciled with the House version, which doesn't include immunity provisions and would increase oversight of the government's intelligence-gathering activities.

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