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Warrantless wiretaps expanded

A surveillance law pushed through Congress and signed by Bush on Sunday will allow the government to monitor phone calls and e-mails without a warrant.

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The US government now has greater authority to eavesdrop without warrants on American citizens' telephone calls and e-mails after President Bush signed new surveillance legislation into law on Sunday. Authored largely by the White House, the new law, officials say, provides a legal framework for warrantless monitoring that was already being conducted by the National Security Agency outside of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Many Democrats and civil rights activists argue that this new law erodes fundamental American liberties and privacy rights. Supporters contend that it's vital to fend off potential terrorist attacks.

Under FISA, which has been amended at least eight times since 2001, a secret national security court issued the necessary warrants for various government offices to conduct wiretaps and other surveillance in the US, reports The Baltimore Sun. Under the new law, provided that the government is targeting a foreigner talking to a US citizen, no warrant is needed.

The change in the law was, in part, a response to the 2005 revelation of a program monitoring conversations without a warrant between foreigners and the United States that were believed to have a connection to al-Qaida. President Bush reluctantly agreed earlier this year to obtain a warrant from the secret court for what Bush now calls the Terrorist Surveillance Program. But the administration had since sought to reduce the role of the court in the process.

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