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Democrats, GOP agree to telecom immunity deal

WASHINGTON — House and Senate leaders have agreed to a compromise surveillance bill that would effectively shield from civil lawsuits the telecommunications companies that helped the government wiretap phone and computer lines after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks without court permission.

The House was expected to pass the bill today, potentially ending a monthslong standoff about the rules for government wiretapping inside the United States.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the bill "balances the needs of our intelligence community with Americans' civil liberties and provides critical new oversight and accountability requirements."

The Senate passed a bill that immunized telecommunications companies from lawsuits, but the House bill was silent on the matter.

The White House threatened to veto any bill that did not shield the companies, which tapped lines at the behest of the president and attorney general but without permission from a special court established for that purpose, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Warrantless wiretapping went on for almost six years until it was revealed by the New York Times. Some 40 lawsuits have been filed against the companies by people and groups who think the government illegally eavesdropped on them.

The compromise bill would have a federal district court review certifications from the attorney general saying the telecommunications companies received presidential orders telling them wiretaps were needed to detect or prevent a terrorist attack. If the paperwork was in order, the judge would dismiss the lawsuit.

Also in Congress

Funding for war: The House approved $162-billion to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan well into 2009 and passed a separate measure that would allow veterans returning from those battlefields to receive increased education benefits. The domestic spending measure includes a 13-week extension of unemployment insurance for laid-off workers who have used all 26 weeks of their current benefits, and $2.65-billion for Midwest flood relief.

Media shield bill: The Newspaper Association of America said Thursday that 37 attorneys general have signed a letter to Senate leaders in support of a media shield bill backing the right of reporters to withhold the identity of their sources in most federal court cases. A media shield bill passed in the House in October but faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where it is strongly opposed by some Republicans.

Parental leave benefits: A bill to enhance parental leave benefits for federal employees passed the House by a wide margin Thursday, despite a White House veto threat. Under the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, federal and congressional employees would receive four weeks of paid parental leave after birth or adoption, or taking in a foster a child.

Times wires

Democrats, GOP agree to telecom immunity deal 06/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 4:35pm]
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