Using some of his toughest language in weeks, President Bush prodded Congress on Thursday to pass his preferred version of surveillance legislation, asserting that every day of delay could put the country in danger.
Mr. Bush said again that renewing the surveillance legislation is “a very urgent priority,” and that it must include controversial provisions that would shield telecommunications companies from wholesale lawsuits over their assistance in monitoring the phone calls and e-mail messages of suspected terrorists without warrants.
Failure to give the legal protection to the telecom companies would not only be unwise and dangerous policy but plain unfair, the president said at a White House news conference. The companies were told by government leaders after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, “that their assistance was legal and vital to national security,” the president said. “Allowing these lawsuits to proceed would be unfair.”
Contrary to what administration critics say, “people who analyze the program fully understand that America’s civil liberties are well protected,” President Bush.
The Senate passed a surveillance bill to the president’s liking on Feb. 12, by a hefty margin. The chamber rejected a series of amendments that would have imposed greater civil-liberties checks on government surveillance powers, and it afforded legal protection to the telecom companies.
But the House has resisting passing that bill, prompting a heated debate over the proper balance between individual liberties and national security in the age of terrorism. If the final legislation does not include protection for the companies, a wave of lawsuits could reveal how the United States conducts surveillance “and give Al Qaeda and others a road map as to how to avoid surveillance,” Mr. Bush said.