Friday, 16 November 2007

News: Democrats Defeat Wire-Tap Amendment

Source: From Reuters

U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday, defying President George W. Bush,passing a bill tightening legal oversight of the power of intelligence agents to use wiretaps to eavesdrop on terror suspects.

The vote in the Democratic-led House was 227-189, largely along party lines.The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. If it passes both chambers, the White House has threatened to veto the measure, warning it would hamper electronic spying efforts, subjecting the United States to increased risks.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the bill "fails to give our intelligence community the tools it needs, and it fails to protect companies facing massive lawsuits for allegedly stepping up and answering the nation's call for help after the 9/11 terrorist attacks."

House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer defended the measure, saying, "This legislation gives our intelligence community the tools it needs to listen in on those who seek to harm us while addressing concerns that (a Bush-backed) bill passed in August could authorize warrantless surveillance of Americans."

Democrats rejected Bush's demand for retroactive immunity for any telecommunications company that may have taken part in the warrantless domestic spying program begun after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

The White House said it was prepared to work with Congress on a possible compromise bill that "would strengthen the nation's intelligence capabilities while respecting the constitutional rights of Americans."

The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requires that the government receive the approval of a secret FISA court to conduct surveillance in the United States of suspected foreign enemy targets.Shortly after the September 11 attacks, Bush secretly authorized warrantless surveillance of communications between people in the United States and others overseas if one had suspected ties to terrorists.

The legislation would replace a previous law passed in August under fierce pressure from the administration that expanded the powers of the US intelligence services to use wiretaps in global terror probes.A warrant would be needed only if the American was a target.Nearly 40 lawsuits have been filed accusing AT&T, Verizon and Sprint Nextel Corp of violating Americans' privacy rights in helping the government's warrantless domestic spying program.

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