The Fight Over Domestic Eavesdropping

President Bush is demanding immediate updating of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

At his press conference, President Bush again called for Congress to pass legislation easing restrictions on the government's domestic eavesdropping on suspected terrorists.

At his press conference, President Bush again called for Congress to pass legislation easing restrictions on the government's domestic eavesdropping on suspected terrorists.

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The White House and congressional Democrats are back to their old tricks—squabbling and insulting each other. This time, it's over legislation designed to modernize techniques used to keep track of suspected terrorists. President Bush is demanding immediate updating of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, arguing that further delay might allow dire threats to go undetected.

At his news conference last week, he said Congress needs to close "a dangerous intelligence gap" caused by technological advances that terrorists can now exploit. But Democratic leaders, including Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, argue that the administration "has resorted to scare tactics and political games" in making its case. The Democrats say that Bush is just crying wolf and that they need more time to work out a decent bill. In a big sticking point, Democrats say there is no need for retroactive liability protection for telecommunications companies and other firms that in the past helped monitor what the administration calls suspected terrorists. Those efforts might have involved invasions of privacy best addressed in court, the critics say. But to the administration, those companies were protecting American lives and should not be penalized by "abusive lawsuits" designed to "line the pockets of class-action trial lawyers." The outlook is for an eventual compromise but lasting recriminations.