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Bush Agrees to Two-Week Extension of Surveillance Law

President Bush has signed a two-week extension of a controversial terrorist-surveillance program pending congressional action on a permanent measure. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, opposition Democrats want more judicial oversight for the eavesdropping program.

President Bush agreed to another temporary extension of the government's wiretapping program but warned that members of both political parties in Congress must move quickly to make the surveillance permanent as he says it is essential to national security.

"If these terrorists and extremists are making phone calls into our country, we need to know why they are calling, what they are thinking, and what they are planning. In order to protect the American people, our professionals need to have the tools necessary to do the job you expect them to do," he said.

U.S. intelligence agents currently monitor telephone and electronic communications between people in the United States and suspected terrorists abroad under a law know as the Protect America Act.

A six-month extension of that law would have expired Friday. After vowing to veto a 30-day extension, President Bush told political supporters in the city of Las Vegas that he agreed to a two-week extension so lawmakers can approve broader powers to wiretap without court approval and give legal immunity to telephone companies that have helped monitor those communications.

Critics say the surveillance program needs more oversight to protect the privacy rights of Americans.

Opposition Democrats say if the government wants to monitor communications between suspected terrorists abroad and people in the United States it should get approval from a secret court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Some Democrats also oppose immunity for telephone companies.

The two-week extension passed the House by voice vote and the Senate by unanimous consent. House Judiciary Chairman Democrat John Conyers says the extension gives Congress time to consider responsible reform while fully preserving current intelligence capabilities.