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Congressional Action Heats Up On FISA

Telecom companies have presented congressional Democrats with a set of proposals on how to provide immunity to the businesses that participated in a controversial government electronic surveillance program, a House Democratic aide said Wednesday.

Congress has been wrestling for months with an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, with the immunity issue the primary sticking point.

Many Democrats want the companies held accountable for participating in the program, which was initiated in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The White House, however, has insisted that the participation of the telecoms is crucial to monitoring conversations between potential terrorists. President Bush has vowed to veto any bill that does not contain immunity.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday a FISA deal is "still in flux" but he described the latest developments as "promising" and said he hoped to have a solution soon.

House officials declined to discuss the specifics of the proposed immunity language by the telecoms.

Although it remains to be seen if congressional Democrats will accept the telecom companies' proposal, the communication between the two sides signifies that progress is being made.

The companies are facing almost 40 separate lawsuits primarily from civil liberties organizations related to their participation in the program.

Meanwhile, Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) has begun circulating a proposal on the FISA bill to all key stakeholders, hoping to break the deadlock, several members and aides also confirmed on Wednesday.
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