US Senate passes surveillance bill with telecom immunity grant

[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.

 

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