Bush Signs Wiretap Law

President Bush has signed a law that allows the government to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mails of terrorism suspects overseas without a warrant, even when the suspect is communicating with someone inside the United States.

The attorney general and the director of national intelligence have the authority to approve the wiretaps and to require telecommunications companies to cooperate.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto told the New York Times that the law is designed to give the government greater flexibility to focus on overseas terrorism suspects.

The law was backed by Republicans and gave the government more power than a measure drafted by Democrats, the Washington Post reports. Democrats facing re-election battles in conservative districts helped give the bill enough votes to pass.

The government had been getting approval for overseas terrorism wiretaps from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The court recently issued a classified ruling requiring warrants when the government wanted to listen to international calls routed through U.S. switches, creating a push for legislation to overturn the ruling. (See this ABAJournal.com post for details.)

The court’s new role under the law is to approve government surveillance procedures after they are used.

FBI agents searched the home of a former Justice Department lawyer last week in an effort to learn who leaked details of the classified ruling to the news media, Newsweek reports. The lawyer, Thomas Tamm, had worked in the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review.

The law will sunset in six months.

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