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House Intel Chairman Predicts Deal on Updated Surveillance Law

The House Intelligence Committee chairman expects a compromise soon on renewal of an eavesdropping law that could provide legal protections for telecommunications companies as President Bush has insisted.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, in a television interview broadcast Sunday, did not specifically say whether the House proposal would mirror the Senate's version. The Senate measure provides retroactive legal immunity to the companies that helped the government wiretap U.S. computer and phone lines after the Sept. 11 attacks without clearance from a secret court.

Bush wants the House to agree to the Senate bill.

Reyes, D-Texas, said he was open to that possibility after receiving documents from the Bush administration and speaking to the companies about the industry's role in the government spy program.

"We are talking to the representatives from the communications companies because if we're going to give them blanket immunity, we want to know and we want to understand what it is that we're giving immunity for," he said. "I have an open mind about that."

Regarding a compromise deal, Reyes said: "We think we're very close, probably within the next week we'll be able to hopefully bring it to a vote."

The eavesdropping law makes it easier for the government to spy on foreign phone calls and e-mails that pass through the United States. The law expired Feb. 16 after Congress did not quickly renew it. Bush opposed a temporary extension and has warned that failure to renew the law would put the nation at greater risk.

But House Democrats worried the legal protections would erode civil liberties protections and accused Bush of fear-mongering. A quirk in the temporary eavesdropping law adopted by Congress last August allows the government to initiate wiretaps for up to one year against a wide range of targets.

Reyes, whose interview was taped Friday, spoke on CNN's "Late Edition."