Surveillance law shields US telcos from lawsuits

The US House easily approved a compromise bill setting new electronic surveillance rules that effectively shield telcos from lawsuits arising from the government's terrorism-era warrantless eavesdropping on phone and computer lines in the US..

According to an Associated Press report, the bill, which was passed on a 293-129 vote, does more than just protect the telecoms.

The update to the 30-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is an attempt to balance privacy rights with the government's responsibility to protect the country against attack, taking into account changes in telecoms technologies, the Associated Press report also said.

'This bill, though imperfect, protects both,' Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., and a former member of the House intelligence committee, was quoted as saying.

President Bush praised the bill, the report said.

The House's passage of the FISA Amendment bill marks the beginning of the end to a monthslong standoff between Democrats and Republicans about the rules for government wiretapping inside the US.

The Senate was expected to pass the bill with a large margin, perhaps as soon as next week, before Congress takes a break during the week of the Fourth of July.

The government eavesdropped on American phone and computer lines for almost six years after the September 11 attacks without permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the special panel established for that purpose under the 1978 law.

Some 40 lawsuits have been filed against the telecommunications companies by groups and individuals who think the Bush administration illegally monitored their phone calls or e-mails.