The White House Thursday agreed to let US Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy and Republican Sen. Arlen Specter see classified documents pertaining to President George W. Bush’s warrantless domestic surveillance program, in hopes that it would speed up the approval of proposed legislation to grant telecommunications companies immunity from prosecution for assisting in government eavesdropping between 2001 and 2007. The committee’s endorsement of the immunity plan is needed for the rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to move forward. President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation unless it includes the telecommunications liability protection.Exactly what electronic surveillance the Bush administration has conducted inside the U.S. is classified.
Under current rules, the government can monitor Americans’ phone and computer lines outside the country if the Attorney General certifies that the American is believed to be an agent of a foreign power. The new bill would require the government to get a court order to eavesdrop on Americans wherever they are in the world.
NPR has an excellent primer on the current state of FISA and legislation.