Bush Signs Off on FISA Measure

President Bush has signed a law that expands authority to eavesdrop on international phone calls and e-mails. The House of Representatives' vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was one of the last moves Congress made before breaking for the summer.

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This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

As Congress left town on summer break this weekend, President Bush signed a law that will expand the government's ability to eavesdrop on international telephone calls and e-mails. The congressional vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was one of the last of the flurry of activities before Congress adjourned.

Joining us to look back at the flurry and the week ahead in politics, NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving.

Ron, welcome back and what's the headline out of this FISA bill signing, do you think?

RON ELVING: The president got what he wanted, Alex. The president executed a perfect squeeze play on the Democrats, who are now, at least nominally, in control of the House and Senate, although with very narrow majorities in both chambers. And he used a combination of the approach of the congressional recess in August, his own power to call the Congress back into session during August or any other time that they're not here, and the extraordinary pressure that any kind of hint of another 9/11 brings to bear on the mind of any politician.

CHADWICK: This was because there had been a court ruling that some of the government's wiretapping activities were not proper, not legal. So the intelligence community really last week put a lot of pressure on Congress to pass a law to make it okay to tap into these things again.

ELVING: That's right. And the Democratic leaders - House and Senate - had been negotiating with Mike McConnell, who's the director of national intelligence, to come up with the way to patch the system. This gets down to kind of a technological issue, which is when you do switches for certain kinds of cell phone calls and e-mail, some of that switching takes place in different parts of the world that aren't necessarily the same part of the world where the telephone call or the e-mail was initiated.

So as a result a court ruled that some of this international surveillance was actually definable as domestic surveillance and therefore violative of the constitution because of course the whole bottom line on this program is you don't get a warrant. There's no court involved. So because there is no warrant, you're kicking in the basic protections that all Americans enjoy if you start surveilling them electronically in their e-mails and telephone calls. The big exception that's being made here is to fight terrorism by intercepting or surveilling these international communications, which the government believes could involve the plotting, the preparing of another terrorist attack.

CHADWICK: Well, Congress did act and then did leave town. People are going home. Do you have any sense there in Washington of what members of Congress are expecting to hear this August back in their districts?

ELVING: They're expecting to hear a great deal of discontent and unhappiness. All the polls show that right now something like 70 percent of the American people are not happy with the direction of the country. Many people are upset because the Democrats haven't done enough to stop the war. Other people are upset that the Republicans lost control of Congress last November and aren't showing enough support for the troops or that the Congress has gotten, in their view, off on a wrong track. A lot of people are unhappy with President Bush for any number of reasons. The sum total of all of it is not too many happy people out there.

CHADWICK: Ron Elving, we are delighted and very happy that you are back with us again on Monday for another political review. NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Bye, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Alex.

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