US surveillance bill gets Senate support

The US Senate Intelligence Committee voted to strengthen court oversight of government surveillance while protecting telecommunications companies from civil lawsuits for tapping Americans' phones and computers without court approval, an Associated Press report.

The Associated Press report said the panel's approval of the bill, 13-2, doesn't guarantee smooth sailing for the legislation. It still must get the blessing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose top Republican and Democratic members have expressed skepticism about the immunity provision, the report said.

And the bill remains stalled in the House, where it ran aground in a partisan dispute over the immunity issue and the broader question of how much oversight power the courts should have over surveillance, Associated Press report said.

The Senate bill would direct civil courts to dismiss lawsuits against telecommunications companies if the attorney general certifies that the company rendered assistance between September 11, 2001, and January 17, 2007, in response to a written request authorized by the president, to help detect or prevent an attack on the US, the report further said.

Suits also would be dismissed if the attorney general certifies that a company named in the case provided no assistance to the government. The public record would not reflect which certification was given to the court.

Exactly what electronic surveillance the Bush administration has conducted inside the US is classified, the report added.

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