US Senate delays vote on telecom immunity for surveillance cooperation News
US Senate delays vote on telecom immunity for surveillance cooperation

[JURIST] US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Monday that a Senate vote on whether to extend immunity to telecommunications companies [JURIST report] from lawsuits related to their participation in the NSA warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive] would be delayed until after the Senate returns from the holiday recess. Reid said that there would not be enough time to fully consider the legislation before senators leave Washington at the end of this week. Instead, Reid said that the Senate would take up the proposal when it reconvenes in January [press release]:

The Senate is committed to improving our nation's intelligence laws to fight terrorism while protecting Americans' civil liberties. We need to take the time necessary to debate a bill that does just that, rather than rushing one through the legislative process. While we had hoped to complete the FISA bill this week, it is clear that is not possible. With more than a dozen amendments to this complex and controversial bill, this legislation deserves time for thorough discussion on the floor.

We will consider this bill when we return in January. In the meantime, I again encourage the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to make available to all Senators the relevant documents on retroactive immunity, so that each may reach an informed decision on how to proceed on this provision. I oppose retroactive immunity, but believe every Senator must have access to the information to make this important decision.

The debate over whether to grant immunity to telecommunications companies is part of negotiations on legislation designed to update foreign surveillance laws. The US House passed [JURIST report] the RESTORE Act of 2007 ("Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed and Effective Act of 2007") [HR 3773 materials] last month without including an immunity provision. President Bush has said he intends to veto the bill [SAP text, PDF] if immunity is not provided for in the final version of legislation. The New York Times has more.