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White House seeks expanded domestic-spying powers

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The bill protects from lawsuits telecom companies that cooperate with the government's domestic spying operations, and does so retroactively from Sept. 11, 2001. Additionally, it moves legal actions against these companies from state to federal court.

An April 13 press release issued by the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence defends the legislation, saying that the current FISA rules do not reflect current technology and that eliminating cumbersome rules would free up intelligence agencies to work harder at safeguarding privacy.

Revolutions in telecommunications technology have brought within FISA's scope communications that Congress did not intend to be covered – and, as a result, extensive resources are now expended obtaining court approval for acquiring communications that do not directly or substantially involve the privacy interests of Americans. Restoring FISA to its original focus will enhance our intelligence capabilities while allowing the Intelligence Community to devote more resources to protecting the privacy interests of people in the United States.

The New York Times notes that during the hearing, Mr. McConnell asserted that, even though the White House was seeking expanded justifications for FISA warrants, the president still has the authority to conduct surveillance inside the United States without a warrant. He said that no such surveillance is currently being conducted.

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