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House passes FISA amendment bill without telecom immunity as veto looms

[JURIST] A controversial bill to amend the Foreign Intelligence Security Act [JURIST news archive] narrowly passed the US House of Representatives Friday in the face of a White House threat to veto it. By 213-197 [roll call] House Democrats pushed through new surveillance regulations [HR 3773 text as amended; summary] that would extend government power to eavesdrop on individuals within the United States under judicial oversight but not grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that had previously allowed the government to eavesdrop on their lines as part of its warrantless wiretapping program. Fearing that telecoms would balk at future intelligence requests, the White House has repeatedly called for such a provision, and on Thursday President Bush said again that he would veto any FISA amendment legislation that did not include that [transcript]. The approved bill would defer the issue of immunity to the courts [JURIST report] to be resolved on a case-by-case basis.

The vote on the bill followed a rare closed session of the House on Thursday evening as members of Congress discussed security-sensitive issues in secret for the first time in 25 years. The House measure now goes to the Senate, which previously passed [JURIST report] similar legislation [comparison of terms] including the immunity provision. AP has more.

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