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Judiciary Committee passes on immunity for telcos

The issue of immunity for telecommunications companies who cooperate with warrantless wiretaps is at the center of a looming showdown in Congress. Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved 10-9 a version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that doesn't include immunity, the New York Times reports.

The issue of immunity for telecommunications companies who cooperate with warrantless wiretaps is at the center of a looming showdown in Congress. Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved 10-9 a version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that doesn't include immunity, the New York Times reports.

Also Thursday night, the House passed a version of the law 227-189 that excludes immunity.

The developments leave one version of the bill, passed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, providing for immunity and two versions that don't. President Bush has said he will veto any bill that doesn't include immunity -- retroactive immunity, mind you.

So which proposal goes to the Senate floor? That's up to majority leader Harry Reid.

“The full Senate will yet need to resolve the immunity issue,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement after the committee vote.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) offered a compromise plan: no immunity for telcos but the federal government would replace them as defendant. In other words, taxpayers would bear the brunt of damages to people whose rights were violated by warrantless wiretaps.

Two Democrats voted against the Judicial Committee bill, both of whom seemed inclined to some sort of compromise along Specter's lines. “I think there is a good solution somewhere in the middle,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said.