[JURIST] US President George W. Bush Wednesday urged [speech text; WH fact sheet] Congress to make permanent a law broadening the government's ability to conduct warrantless surveillance of terror suspects abroad, echoing recent statements by intelligence officials. The Protect America Act 2007 [S 1927 materials], passed [JURIST report] by Congress in August, gives the executive branch expanded surveillance authority for a period of six months while Congress works on long-term legislation to "modernize" the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text]. Speaking from National Security Agency headquarters, Bush said technological innovations such as cell phones and the Internet render FISA outmoded and extend privacy protection to foreigners, something that was not intended by FISA's drafters. In addition to urging the permanent adoption of the Protect America Act, Bush noted his support of proposals granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that aided government surveillance without a court order:
It's particularly important for Congress to provide meaningful liability protection to those companies now facing multi-billion dollar lawsuits only because they are believed to have assisted in efforts to defend our nation following the 9/11 attacks. Additionally, without this protection, state secrets could be revealed in connection with those lawsuits - and our ability to protect our people would be weakened.
US Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testified [statement, PDF; JURIST report] before the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday in support of making the Protect America Act permanent.
Last week, US Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein [official profile], head of the US Department of Justice's National Security Division, sent a letter to Congress [JURIST report] saying that the Protect America Act will not allow government authorities to conduct warrantless domestic searches, a frequent concern of critics. AP has more.