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8/6/2007
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President's Warrantless Wiretapping Powers Extended

Bush promoted the new law to deal with limitations and criticisms of intelligence agencies' activities since 2001.

Intelligence agencies can monitor electronic communications without a warrant, provided that a high-ranking public servant signs off on it beforehand, or in the case of imminent danger, within 72 hours.

The new powers originate from a bill that President George W. Bush signed Sunday. The powers, which some critics call "warrantless wiretapping," expire in six months. In the meantime, some elected representatives have indicated they will attempt to develop different long-term strategies for surveillance.

Bush promoted the new law to deal with limitations and criticisms of intelligence agencies' activities since 2001. Two New York Times reporters, now under investigation by the FBI, broke the story late in 2005 that investigators had been intercepting communications without first obtaining court orders from a secret court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The administration argued it had powers to authorize the surveillance on several grounds. Still, critics lambasted the White House's position, claiming it violated Americans' Fourth Amendment rights, which guarantee protections against illegal search and seizure. The White House also claims that foreign terrorist suspects were targeted, not American citizens, but several groups both ends of the political spectrum -- the John Birch Society and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others -- said Americans' conversations and e-mail communications were monitored in the process.

The Protect America Act, passed and took effect over the weekend, with little public debate. It makes clear -- at least for the time being -- that intelligence agents can monitor communications without a warrant, as long as one party is believed to be outside of the United States.

Bush said in a prepared statement that the Act modernizes old rules about surveillance to keep pace with technology, while protecting citizens' rights.

Groups that were already critical of surveillance without warrants said they will push to ensure that the new rules are not renewed.

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