Four Republican Senators on Thursday proposed new legislation that would give the President clear authority to authorize electronic surveillance that could reach Americans as part of investigations of suspected terrorists, and to do so without a court order “for periods of up to 45 days” and perhaps longer.

The bill, titled the “Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006,” apparently is an effort to fill any gap in authority that may now exist for the President to continue the existing secret program of National Security Agency monitoring of telephone calls and e-mails potentially involving terrorist communications, when the contact includes someone in the U.S.. After the present program was disclosed by The New York Times in December, President Bush and other officials have strongly defended its legality, claiming — among other arguments — that no new legislation was necessary.

Even so, the new bill reportedly has the endorsement of the Administration, and has been crafted with official input.

This blog recently discussed the role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in any such program, and referred to proposed legislation being drafted by Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania
Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to have the special FISA Court rule on the constitutionality of the existing program so far as it touches domestic individuals or organizations.

The bill introduced Thursday, with Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican, as its principal sponsor, is different in significant respects from the Specter proposal. The text of the DeWine bill can be found here. A press release by Sen. DeWine describing the bill is here.

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