The U.S. Senate has voted in favor of a bill expanding the government's ability to eavesdrop without court warrants on suspected foreign terrorists.
The bill, approved by the Senate late Friday by a vote of 60-28, expands the Bush administration's authority for a period of six months. Senate Democrats failed to pass a version of the bill that would have limited that authority to four months.
The White House says the bill would give the intelligence agencies "the essential tools they need to protect our nation."
Democrats were angered when President Bush's national intelligence director, Michael McConnell, personally lobbied lawmakers to pass the measure. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin called it "a sad day" for the Senate to defer to the executive branch.
The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives, which may vote on it as early as Saturday.
Before the Senate vote Friday, House Republicans blocked passage of a Democratic measure that limited the president's authority to four months.
If the Senate bill becomes law, Congress would have time to work on permanent legislation to revise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which regulates the U.S. government's eavesdropping on suspected terrorists.
Under current U.S. law, a secret court reviews government surveillance. President Bush has asked that the law be altered to give the U.S. attorney general and the national intelligence director power to order the interception of overseas electronic communications.
Democrats object to giving the president's controversial attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, a role in surveillance operations. They also want the secret court to review the process to make sure U.S. citizens are not being targeted.
Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.