The House of Representatives has approved legislation updating U.S.
foreign intelligence surveillance law. President Bush welcomed the
bipartisan compromise measure saying it will improve U.S. capabilities
to prevent another terrorist attacks. But as VOA's Dan Robinson
reports, some Democratic lawmakers opposed the measure.
crafting the latest revision of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act (FISA), House and Senate lawmakers gave President Bush
much of what he sought during months of tough negotiations.
president wanted telecommunications companies to have immunity from
possible lawsuits stemming from any cooperation they provided for the
counter-terrorist surveillance program he approved after the September
11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The program, which involves
surveillance of terror suspects without a court warrant, triggered
widespread protests and at least 40 lawsuits alleging violations of
civil liberties. The program was publicly revealed in media reports in
The new legislation, which passed the house by a vote of
293-129, does not grant blanket immunity to the phone companies,
but does provide for court review of certifications from the U.S.
attorney general that companies acted under presidential orders. A
judge could then dismiss a lawsuit.
Among key points of the new
law, electronic eavesdropping without court approval would be permitted
in what are designated as emergencies, allowing the government to
submit justifications within one week.
It requires court
permission and establishment of probable cause for surveillance of
Americans overseas, and prohibits a process in which the communications
of a U.S. citizen could be monitored without court approval by
targeting a foreigner.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said while
the measure is not perfect, overall it helps keep Americans safe and
does not violate American's constitutional rights.
"We must have a bill that does not violate the Constitution of the United States, and this bill does not," she said.
most important thing is that on a bipartisan basis we have come
together on a national security issue to give our intelligence
community the tools they need to keep America safe," said Republican Pete Hoekstra, a former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
But many Democrats voiced strong opposition, among them Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
does not strike the proper balance between protecting national security
and preserving our cherished civil liberties," she said.
In advance of the House vote, President Bush said the legislation will help the U.S. intelligence community protect Americans.
enemy that attacked us on September 11 is determined to strike this
country again," he said. "It is vital that our intelligence community
has the ability to learn who the terrorists are talking to, what they
are saying, and what they are planning."
The president urged the U.S. Senate to take up the intelligence legislation as quickly as possible.
American Civil Liberties Union described the measure as "disastrous",
asserting that it allows for mass and untargeted surveillance of