U.S. President George Bush has signed legislation expanding the government's surveillance powers. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House the measure also protects telecommunication companies from lawsuits stemming from assistance they provide to help track potential terror suspects.
One day after the bill cleared Congress, the president signed it into law.
"Today I am pleased to sign landmark legislation that is vital to the security of our people," he said.
The measure is the most extensive revision of U.S. surveillance law in 30 years. It is designed to enable intelligence agencies to move quickly to monitor communications involving terror suspects, in some cases without a special court warrant.
The president says it will give the United States a much-needed tool to track terrorists abroad while respecting liberties at home.
"It is essential that our intelligence community knows who our enemies are talking to, what they are saying and what they are planning," he added.
This new law was the result of months of negotiations and bickering between the White House and Congress, and it is considered a big victory for the president. It includes a controversial provision that he has deemed essential: legal immunity for telephone companies that have voluntarily cooperated with such wiretaps since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
"This law will ensure that those companies whose assistance is necessary to protect the country will themselves be protected from lawsuits from past or future cooperation with the government," he explained.
It was the immunity provision that dominated most of the debate on the bill in Congress. In the end, most members of the legislature acknowledged that without the grant of immunity, telephone companies would be reluctant to cooperate with further emergency wiretaps.