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US Senate committee debates surveillance bill granting telecoms immunity

[JURIST] The US Senate Intelligence Committee [official website] Thursday debated a draft bill that would grant immunity from prosecution to telecommunications companies [JURIST report] that assisted in government eavesdropping between 2001 and 2007. The bill, which would amend the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text], also includes a provision requiring the attorney general to certify that probable cause exists to suspect that an American is engaged in activities against the United States before the government can initiate surveillance. President Bush has threatened to veto any surveillance bill that does not include immunity provisions for telecom companies that assisted in government eavesdropping. AP has more.

On Wednesday, House Democrats withdrew [JURIST report] 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 after Republicans moved to attach an amendment to the bill which would have been politically awkward for Democrats to reject, providing that nothing in the measure would prevent the government from spying on Osama Bin Laden or other terrorist organizations. The RESTORE Act was intended to replace the temporary Protect America Act [S 1927 materials], signed in August, as the law governing foreign surveillance.

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