Senate delays vote on eavesdropping bill

The Senate put off voting on controversial electronic surveillance legislation Thursday in spite of what appeared to be overwhelming support for the bill. Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold and more than a dozen other senators who oppose telecom immunity threw up procedural delays that threatened to force the Senate into a midnight or weekend session. The prospect of further delays was enough to cause Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who controls the Senate's agenda, to postpone the vote until after the weeklong July Fourth Independence Day vacation. The bill provides legal immunity to telecommunications companies that helped the government wiretap American phone and computer lines without court permission after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. It also makes it easier for the government to tap the calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists. Its detractors contend that it does not protect Americans' privacy rights, while its champions argue that it strikes the right balance between civil liberties and security. The bill passed the House of Representatives with a strong majority last week.