Senate OKs FISA Bill, Immunity For Telecom Firms

The Senate voted Wednesday to protect telecommunications companies from liability for participating in the warrantless domestic spying program that began in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

President Bush is expected to sign the bill, which passed on a 69-28 vote and overhauls the rules on secret government eavesdropping.

"This bill will help our intelligence professionals learn who the terrorists are talking to, what they're saying and what they're planning," Bush said.

The legislation effectively dismisses about 40 lawsuits against telecom companies accused of violating wiretapping and privacy laws.

The measure also strengthens judicial and congressional oversight of U.S. surveillance of foreign targets and increases civil liberties protections for U.S. citizens who are caught up in spy investigations. In addition, it authorizes U.S. intelligence agencies to eavesdrop, without court approval, on foreign targets believed to be outside the United States.

"The bill will keep us safe and protect our liberties," said U.S. Sen. Christopher Bond, a Missouri Republican and a lead sponsor of the bipartisan compromise measure. Critics said it does not adequately protect the phone calls and e-mails of law-abiding citizens.

The legislation is meant to replace a temporary spy law that expired in February and modernize the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

From NPR and wire service reports

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