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House Democrats postpone consideration of major surveillance bill

[JURIST] House Democrats withdrew the RESTORE Act of 2007 ("Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed and Effective Act of 2007") [HR 3773 summary; HJC summary, PDF] from the House floor for consideration Wednesday after Republicans moved to attach an amendment to the bill which would have been politically awkward for Democrats to reject. The RESTORE Act is intended to replace the temporary Protect America Act [S 1927 materials], signed in August, as the law governing foreign surveillance. At the earliest, House Democrats will re-introduce the bill as currently drafted next week. The amendment proposed by House Republicans would have said that nothing in the bill would prevent the government from spying on Osama Bin Laden or other terrorist organizations; Democrats say their bill allows for surveillance of terrorist organizations, so they would vote down the amendment, which would provide fodder for Republican claims that Democrats are soft on terrorism.

The RESTORE Act [CRS summary] permits eavesdropping on foreign targets operating outside the US, but if the surveillance targets are thought to be communicating with Americans, the government must apply for an "umbrella" court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [official backgrounder] to conduct surveillance for up to one year. In an emergency, the government may begin surveillance immediately, but must apply for a FISC court order within seven days and receive FISC approval within 45 days. House Republicans oppose the RESTORE Act as unwieldy and an impediment to effective counter-terrorism surveillance. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it does not provide legal immunity to telecommunications companies [JURIST report] for participating in the NSA domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. House Democrats have not adopted such an amendment and want the president to reveal what the telecommunications companies did that requires legal immunity. Bush instead favors a renewal of the temporary Protect America Act, which, in part, amends FISA to state that nothing under its definition of "electronic surveillance" shall be construed to encompass surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States. AP has more.

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