Court upholds surveillance law

SAN FRANCISCO - A federal appeals court on Thursday said a 2008 law granting telecommunications companies legal immunity for helping the National Security Agency with an e-mail and telephone eavesdropping program is constitutional.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit court affirmed a lower-court ruling that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passes constitutional muster.

The appeal came in a case that consolidated 33 lawsuits against various telecom companies, including AT&T, Sprint Nextel, Verizon Communications Inc., and BellSouth Corp., on behalf of their customers. The plaintiffs accused the companies of violating the law and customers' privacy by collaborating with the NSA on intelligence-gathering. The case stems from surveillance rules passed by Congress in 2009. But in a separate opinion, a three-judge panel of the court revived two other lawsuits that challenged the warrantless-surveillance program. - AP

Vt. reopens last Irene-ruined road

STOCKBRIDGE, Vt. - After hundreds of thousands of tons of rock were hauled out and tens of thousands of worker-hours were spent, Vermont celebrated the completion of the biggest single engineering challenge after the flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Irene.

Just in time for the new year, and four months after the storm hit, Route 107 between Bethel and Stockbridge was reopened Thursday. The state highway, a major east-west thoroughfare, was the last to reopen after being closed by flooding.

The reopening was marked with a ceremony at a Stockbridge school, where scores of residents and state officials tossed fluorescent orange baseball caps into the air. The repair of Route 107 posed one of the biggest tests after the Aug. 28 storm that killed six people, cut off a dozen towns for days, and damaged or destroyed more than 500 miles of roads and 200 bridges. - AP

I-10 pileup kills 2 in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS - Two men died and 61 people were injured Thursday in a predawn pileup involving about 40 cars and other vehicles on a busy interstate that crosses New Orleans, closing the route for hours both ways, police said.

Drivers said they drove into thick smoke or fog that abruptly limited visibility on westbound lanes of I-10 heading across eastern New Orleans. Those who came upon the scene said they heard injured motorists pleading for assistance.

Officer Garry Flot, a police spokesman, would not talk about possible causes, including whether those may have included smoke or fog. I-10 is a major corridor for thousands of commuters who enter New Orleans each day from its eastern suburbs and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. - AP

Elsewhere:

The Homeland Security Department established a toll-free, 24-hour-a-day hotline - 855-448-6903 - for people jailed on immigration charges who believe they are crime victims or may be U.S. citizens. It is the administration's latest move to address concerns about suspected illegal immigrants held in local jails.