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House intel chairman says surveillance law compromise expected soon

[JURIST] US Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Select Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that the House of Representatives could vote on compromise surveillance legislation as early as next week. In an appearance on CNN's Late Edition, Reyes said [transcript] that a compromise bill to replace the now-defunct Protect America Act [S 1927 materials; JURIST report] would come to a vote in the House "probably within the next week." The Protect America Act expired earlier this month before Congress could reach an agreement on legislation to replace it, prompting repeated criticism [JURIST report] from President Bush, who has said that the US is in greater danger of a terrorist attack without the surveillance legislation.

The Protect America Act, a temporary law designed to supplement the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [text], allowed the US government to eavesdrop within the US without court approval so as long as one end of a conversation was reasonably perceived to have been outside of the country. US Attorney General Michael Mukasey and US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in a February 22 letter [PDF text; JURIST report] to Reyes that intelligence has been lost while some companies wait to see how the legislature settles a dispute over whether to provide immunity for telecommunications companies [JURIST report] from lawsuits related to their participation in the NSA warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. The Senate and the House have not yet been able to reach an agreement on whether to provide immunity to telecommunications companies. The FISA Amendments Act [S 2248 materials], passed by the Senate in mid-February, grants telecommunications companies full legal immunity from civil suits for any involvement in wiretapping program between Sept. 11, 2001 and January 2007. The House version [HR 3773 materials], approved in November 2007 [JURIST report], does not include the immunity provisions. Reyes addressed immunity in his Sunday interview, saying:

we are talking to the representatives from the communications companies because, if we're going to give them blanket immunity, we want to know and we want to understand the communications companies because if we're going to give them blanket immunity, we want to know and we want to understand what it is that we're giving immunity for. ...

... both the Senate version and the House version have prospective immunity. So in talking to at least some of the representatives from the telecommunications companies, they recognize that. What they're interested in is retrospective immunity, but they know that both the House and the Senate are in favor of giving them that immunity as we go forward.
AP has more.

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