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Senate rejects surveillance legislation amendment

[JURIST] The US Senate on Thursday voted 60-36 [roll call] against an amendment [Leahy press release] to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Bill [S 2248 materials; JURIST news archive] which would have incorporated several changes to the legislation that were previously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill is designed to revise and extend the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text; JURIST news archive] so as to - among other things - expand the oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) [official backgrounder], giving it greater powers to monitor the government's use of eavesdropping on American citizens. Currently, the temporary Protect America Act [S 1927 materials; JURIST report] expands FISA to allow the US government to eavesdrop inside of the US without court approval as long as one end of a telephone or computer conversation is reasonably perceived to have been outside of the US. That act is set to sunset on February 1 and both President George W. Bush [press release] and Vice President Dick Cheney [JURIST report] have recently called for Congressional action to do away with the need for future renewals by making FISA permanent. They have also urged 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. Bush has threatened to veto any revised surveillance bill that does not include the immunity provisions. The version of the legislation rejected by the Senate Thursday did not contain an immunity provision. AP has more.

Meanwhile, congressional leaders announced Thursday that the White House has agreed to release documents pertaining to the government's warrantless domestic surveillance program to members of the House of Representatives Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. The announcement ends months of heated discussion between Congress and the White House regarding the government's use of secret wiretapping, which culminated last fall when the White House refused to comply with subpoenas [JURIST report] demanding the release of the FISA documents. Bush had agreed in October [JURIST report] to allow Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and ranking Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) to see the documents. AP has more.

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