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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 August 2007, 06:35 GMT 07:35 UK
Congress backs foreign wiretaps
President George Bush
President Bush welcomed the vote
Congress in the US has backed a measure allowing the government to eavesdrop on foreigners suspected of having links with terrorism.

The House of Representatives approved the bill by a majority of 44 after its approval in the Senate, with the Democratic majority split on the issue.

The bill allows taps on foreign phone and internet communications routed via the US, without prior court approval.

President George Bush says the measure is needed to combat terrorist threats.

The House voted late on Saturday 227-183 in favour of the bill, which updates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

"Unprecedented measure"

When the new measures come into force, the government will have the right to intercept, without warrants, communications between foreigners that are routed through equipment in the US, provided that "foreign intelligence information" is at stake.

In his first reaction, Mr Bush hailed the vote in the House, which is dominated by opposition Democrats.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (from the US Representative's site)
This bill would grant the attorney general the ability to wiretap anybody, any place, any time without court review
Democratic Rep Zoe Lofgren

"The Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, has assured me that this bill gives him what he needs to continue to protect the country, and therefore I will sign this legislation as soon as it gets to my desk," he said.

But many House Democrats expressed strong reservations about the bill, saying it infringed constitutional rights.

"This bill would grant the attorney general the ability to wiretap anybody, any place, any time without court review, without any checks and balances," said Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren during the debate preceding the vote.

"I think this unwarranted, unprecedented measure would simply eviscerate the 4th Amendment" of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

The administration introduced changes to the law after a recent ruling by the FISA court.

That decision barred the government from eavesdropping without warrants on foreign suspects whose messages were being routed through US communications carriers, including internet sites.

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