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Protect America - and the law

We don't buy Bush's scare tactics on surveillance.

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Nothing is more important to the American people than our safety and our freedom. As the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence and judiciary committees, we have an enormous responsibility to protect both.

Unfortunately, instead of working with Congress to achieve the best policies to keep our country safe, once again President Bush has resorted to scare tactics and political games.

In November, the House passed legislation to give US intelligence agencies strong tools to intercept terrorist communications that transit the United States, while ensuring that Americans' private communications are not swept up by the government in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

More recently, the Senate passed similar legislation. The Senate bill also contains a provision to grant retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that assisted the executive branch in conducting surveillance programs after Sept. 11, 2001.

While the four of us may have our differences on what language a final bill should contain, we agree on several points.

Our country did not "go dark" on Feb. 16 when the Protect America Act (PAA) expired. Despite Mr. Bush's overheated rhetoric on this issue, the government's orders under that act will last until at least August. No surveillance stopped.

If Bush truly believed that the expiration of the Protect America Act caused a danger, he would not have refused our offer of an extension.

In the remote possibility that a terrorist organization that we have never previously identified emerges, the National Security Agency (NSA) could use existing authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to track its communications. Since Congress passed FISA in 1978, the court governing the law's use has approved nearly 23,000 warrant applications and rejected only five. In an emergency, the NSA or FBI can begin surveillance immediately; a FISA court order does not have to be obtained for three days.

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