US Senate passes surveillance bill with telecom immunity grant Brett Murphy at 7:31 AM ET
[JURIST] The US Senate on Tuesday voted 68-29 [roll call] in favor of the FISA Amendments Act [S 2248 materials], legislation intended to replace the temporary Protect America Act in modernizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Protect America Act [S 1927 materials; JURIST report] is currently set to expire February 15. The bill passed by the Senate Tuesday would provide immunity for telecommunications companies [JURIST report] from lawsuits related to their participation in the NSA warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. The House version [HR 3773 materials] of the legislation, approved in November [JURIST report], did not include the provisions on immunity, and House Republicans are now pressing for a vote on the Senate bill to side-step potentially difficult negotiations to reconcile differences between the versions. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) sent a letter [PDF text; press release] to White House Counsel Fred Fielding Tuesday, maintaining his position against the granting of retroactive immunity to telecom companies. Conyers said that there was no reason for such a broad grant of amnesty.
Congress has mulled the controversial issue of telecom immunity while working on long-term legislation to "modernize" the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text]; the Bush administration has indicated it will veto [JURIST report] any legislation passed without a telecom liability protection. On Tuesday, the Senate approved by voice vote an increase in the power of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [official backgrounder] to monitor the government's eavesdropping on American citizens. Current law allows the US government to eavesdrop inside of the US without court approval as long as one end of a conversation is reasonably perceived to have been outside of the US; the amendment will extend the court order requirement to Americans located overseas. AP has more.
Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible, ad-free format.