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Bush wants terrorism law updated

  Politics  -   POSTED: 2007/08/03 14:57

President Bush wants Congress to modernize a law that governs how intelligence agencies monitor the communications of suspected terrorists. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, provides a legal foundation that allows information about terrorists‘ communications to be collected without violating civil liberties. Bush noted that terrorists now use disposable cell phones and the Internet to communicate, recruit operatives and plan attacks; such tools were not available when FISA passed nearly 30 years ago. He also cited a recently released intelligence estimate that concluded al-Qaida is using its growing strength in the Middle East to plot attacks on U.S. soil.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said Bush was trying to exploit the threat from al-Qaida to push the bill. Feingold said the measure was an "egregious power grab that includes broad new powers that have nothing to do with bringing FISA up to date."

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush authorized the NSA to spy on calls between people in the U.S. and suspected terrorists abroad without FISA court warrants. The administration said it needed to act more quickly than the court could. It also said the president had inherent authority under the Constitution to order warrantless domestic spying.

The national intelligence director, in a letter Wednesday to the House intelligence committee, stressed the need to be able to collect intelligence about foreign terrorists overseas. Mike McConnell said intelligence agencies should be able to do that without requirements imposed by an "out of date" law.

Reyes said Saturday that the committee is intently focused on the issue.

Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, contends the White House is asking for more power to conduct warrantless domestic and international surveillance.

The ACLU said the legislation backed by the administration would give immunity from criminal prosecution and civil liability for the telecommunication companies that participate in the NSA program. The ACLU urged lawmakers to find out the full extent of current intelligence gathering under FISA before making changes.

The House Republican leader, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, said Democrats are delaying necessary changes.

"Rather than learning the lessons of September 11 — that we need to break down the bureaucratic impediments to intelligence collection and analysis — Democrats have stonewalled Republican attempts to modernize FISA and close the terrorist loophole," he said Saturday.


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