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Lawmakers Take Up NSA's Once-Secret Surveillance Program

A bill touted as a compromise between supporters and opponents of the National Security Agency's once-secret surveillance program is drawing fire from groups suing over the program.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter is sponsoring a bill that he claims represents a compromise with the White House. Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, claims the bill would allow the closed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to decide whether the President can legally authorize electronic surveillance without first obtaining warrants. It goes before the committee Wednesday.

"The negotiations with administration officials and the president himself were fierce," Specter wrote in a column published in The Washington Post this week. "The president, however, did personally commit to submitting this program for court review should the bill pass. Even without a legal mandate, his sending this program to the FISC would be a powerful precedent to be considered by future presidents."

While Specter touts the closed court as a fair venue for determining whether presidents should be able to authorize the NSA surveillance during times of war, groups that are suing over previous and current surveillance claim the bill undermines their cases.

About 37 cases are winding their way through the court system in several states. Plaintiffs are suing communications companies for cooperating with the government programs. The government and the companies claim they have done nothing illegal, but groups on the left side of the political spectrum and Civil Libertarians disagree.

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