A controversial law that regulates the U.S. government's ability to eavesdrop on foreign terrorism suspects expires next month. The Bush administration wants Congress to make the Protect America Act permanent, but critics argue the law, as it stands, violates Americans' privacy rights. VOA's Alex Villarreal has more.

The Protect America Act updated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. It expanded the government's wiretapping powers to address new technologies, such as e-mail and cell phones.

Congress passed the temporary law in August. On Wednesday, Vice President Dick Cheney called on lawmakers to make updated FISA legislation permanent before the act expires on February first. He made his appeal at the Heritage Foundation, an independent Washington research group.

"Fighting the war on terror is a long-term enterprise that requires long-term institutional changes," Cheney said. "The challenge to the country has not expired over the last six months. It won't expire anytime soon. And we should not write laws that pretend otherwise."

Cheney also urged Congress to expand surveillance law by granting legal immunity to communications companies that helped authorities gather intelligence after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Many Democrats in Congress say the Protect America Act violates Americans' civil liberties. The law allows the government to eavesdrop on foreign terrorism suspects without court approval, even if they are communicating with an American citizen.

In November, the House of Representatives passed revisions to FISA that would require a court order for monitoring such communications. The measure did not include a legal immunity provision. The Senate is now considering its own version of the law.