US House passes surveillance bill despite Bush veto threat

March 15th, 2008 - 3:45 am ICT by admin  

Washington, March 15 (DPA) The US House of Representatives has passed a terrorist surveillance bill that President George W. Bush had pledged to veto as it does not protect phone companies who cooperate with the government without court approval. The Democrat-controlled House refused to grant lawsuit immunity to telecoms cooperating in the secret monitoring of phone calls or emails of suspected foreign terrorists passing through the US. The House approved the measure by a 213-197 vote.

Bush backs an adopted Senate measure that protects telecommunications firms from helping eavesdrop without an approval from a judge. The House wants court approval before the companies can be protected.

The Senate and House must now meet to reconcile differences between their two bills. Bush Thursday said the House bill harmed the ability of the US government to gather information to protect the nation’s security.

A temporary surveillance measure expired last month after it passed the Senate but was held up by the opposition Democrats in the House.

“Companies that may have helped us save lives should be thanked for their patriotic service not subjected to billion-dollar lawsuits that will make them less willing to help in the future,” Bush said in a statement Thursday.

The Senate last month approved the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, also known as FISA, to allow secret wiretaps.

The White House has warned that intelligence may already have been lost in the absence of the programme since last month.

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