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House Passes FISA Update

The House passed a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s electronic surveillance laws on Friday, breaking a months-long deadlock on the controversial issue.

The update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed 293 to 129.

The centerpiece of the bill is a provision that allows for a federal district court to review the legal justifications for granting immunity to the telecommunications companies who aided the government in the wiretapping program implemented after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

With the telecom companies facing almost 40 lawsuits for participating in the program, the issue of granting retroactive immunity became the major sticking point in the ongoing negotiations

The most sweeping rewrite of the nation’s intelligence laws in 30 years, the measure also requires an inspector general review of the FISA program and calls for the program to sunset in 2012, which Democrats hailed as important improvements to existing legislation.

128 Democrats voted against the measure, as many liberal Democrats said the court review of the immunity provision did not go far enough to hold the telecom companies accountable.

Led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), Democrats spent over four months negotiating the bill with the White House and their GOP counterparts.

Earlier in the day, President Bush praised the measure, saying the legislation will "allow our intelligence professionals to quickly and effectively monitor the plans of terrorists abroad while protecting the liberties of Americans here at home."
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