President Bush is urging Congress to quickly amend a law on foreign surveillance that he says is "badly out of date." Mr. Bush says that at a time of heightened alert to prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, intelligence professionals need a more modern law to help them effectively assess those threats. VOA's William Ide has more from Washington.
In his weekly radio address, Mr. Bush appealed to Congress to modernize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The president says he wants Congress to make the changes before it breaks for summer recess next month.
He says the key problem is that FISA was written into law nearly three decades ago and notes that it needs to be revamped to better address modern technologies used by terrorists.
"Our intelligence community warns that under the current statute, we are missing a significant amount of foreign intelligence that we should be collecting to protect our country," said Mr. Bush. "Congress needs to act immediately to pass this bill, so that our national security professionals can close intelligence gaps and provide critical warning time for our country."
Mr. Bush says the legislation his administration is proposing is the product of months of discussions with members of both parties in the House and the Senate. It includes proposals that would allow U.S. telecommunications companies to cooperate more fully with the government in gathering information.
"Today we face sophisticated terrorists who use disposable cell phones and the Internet to communicate with each other, recruit operatives, and plan attacks on our country," added Mr. Bush. "Technologies like these were not available when FISA was passed nearly 30 years ago, and FISA has not kept up with new technological developments."
The proposed legislation also includes changes to allow the government to collect intelligence about foreign targets in foreign locations without obtaining court orders.
Mr. Bush's proposed changes come in the wake of a long and heated debate in the U.S. over his Administration's previous monitoring of terrorist suspects.
Shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Mr. Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop, without court warrants, on calls between people in the U.S. and suspected terrorists abroad, even though the law requires such warrants.
The Bush Administration argued it had the authority to conduct warrantless surveillance, because of special powers granted by Congress in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The administration said the wiretapping was necessary to help the U.S. act quickly to prevent terror attacks. Earlier this year, the president put the program back under the authority of FISA and its special secret courts.
Civil rights advocates have harshly criticized the previous warantless program, and are criticizing the president's new proposals, saying they will erode the rights of Americans.
Democratic leaders in Congress say they are moving to address inefficiencies in the system and will make changes as "necessary." But they also cite concerns about expanding the government's surveillance powers.