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Cheney presses Congress for FISA extension with immunity for telecoms

[JURIST] US Vice President Dick Cheney Wednesday urged the US Congress to renew and expand the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive] when it meets for a scheduled Thursday vote. In a speech [text] to the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, Cheney called on Congress to amend FISA to grant immunity to telecommunications companies [JURIST report] from lawsuits related to their participation in the NSA warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive], saying that government agencies did not have the resources to fight terror without cooperation from private telecom providers.

The temporary Protect America Act [S-1927 materials; JURIST report], enacted as a stopgap while Congress worked on long-term legislation to "modernize" FISA, is set to expire February 1. The Protect Act currently 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. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans defeated an attempt by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [official website] to extend the Protect Act for an additional month. On Wednesday, Reid sent a letter to US President George W. Bush asking that he support an extension to the Protect Act [The Hill report] as it is unlikely that Congress will agree to reauthorize FISA before the February 1 deadline. AP has more. The Washington Post has additional coverage.

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