Senate approves legal immunity for wiretapping telecoms companies

The Senate voted Tuesday to shield from lawsuits telecommunications companies that helped the US government eavesdrop on their customers without court permission after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. After nearly two months of stops and starts, the Senate rejected by a vote of 31 to 67 a move to strip away a grant of retroactive legal immunity for the companies. President George W. Bush has promised to veto any new surveillance bill that does not protect the companies that helped the government in its warrantless wiretapping program, arguing that it is essential if the private sector is to give the government the help it needs. About 40 lawsuits have been filed against telecom companies by people alleging violations of wiretapping and privacy laws.