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House Prepares to Debate New Surveillance Law

President Bush praised Congress Friday for moving forward on a bill giving permitting government eavesdropping in the war on terrorism, saying "it will help our intelligence professionals learn enemies' plans for new attacks."

Speaking at the White House, Bush called on both the House and Senate to pass the compromise deal that key lawmakers confirmed Thursday and said he believes it is a vital tool for U.S. law enforcement.

As the House prepared to vote later Friday on that measure, Bush also said he was pleased that Congress was moving forward on "a responsible war funding bill" for Iraq that supports the troops in the field without requiring "artificial timetables" for their withdrawal.

Bush said the legislation updating and revising the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 will "allow our intelligence professionals to quickly and effectively monitor the plans of terrorists abroad while protecting our liberties at home."

He noted that the bill would protect telecommunications companies from lawsuits for cooperating for "past or future cooperation" with federal law enforcement authorities and will assist the intelligence community in determining the plans of terrorists by following "who they are talking to, what they are saying, what they are planning."

The update to the intelligence law was expected to pass the House, potentially ending the standoff between Democrats and Republicans about the rules for government wiretapping inside the United States. The Senate was expected to pass the bill with a large margin, perhaps as soon as next week.

Warrantless wiretapping, which went on for almost six years after the Sept. 11 attacks, was revealed publicly in late 2005 by The New York Times and then discontinued in January 2007. Some 40 lawsuits have been filed against the companies by groups and individuals who think the Bush administration illegally monitored their phone calls or e-mails.

The White House had threatened to veto any bill that did not shield the companies, which tapped lines at the behest of the president and attorney general but without permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the special panel established for that purpose under the 1978 law.

The compromise bill would have a federal district court review certifications from the attorney general saying the telecommunications companies received presidential orders telling them wiretaps were needed to detect or prevent a terrorist attack. If the paperwork were deemed in order, the judge would dismiss the lawsuit.

It would also require the inspectors general of the Justice Department, Pentagon and intelligence agencies to investigate the wiretapping program, with a report due in a year.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendment bill also would:

--Require FISA court permission to wiretap Americans who are overseas.

--Prohibit targeting a foreigner to secretly eavesdrop on an American's calls or e-mails without court approval.

--Allow the FISA court 30 days to review existing but expiring surveillance orders before renewing them.

--Allow eavesdropping in emergencies without court approval, provided the government files required papers within a week.

--Prohibit the government from invoking war powers or other authorities to supersede surveillance rules in the future.

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