The Bush administration will allow an independent court to oversee its surveillance program in which the National Security Agency has electronically eavesdropped without obtaining court warrants, USA Today reports. The move comes amid increasing criticism from Democrats and some Republicans who say the NSA’s Terrorist Surveillance Program has infringed on privacy rights and wrongly bypassed a special court of federal judges that secretly monitors classified intelligence-gathering.
Established by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the panel issues secret search warrants to FBI, CIA, and other federal agents who want to set up wiretaps or other electronic surveillance in cases in which national security is thought to be at stake. The court’s workload has soared since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; last year it approved more than 2,000 requests for surveillance. The administration has questioned whether the FISA court moves quickly enough. The White House reversal on warrantless searches came on the eve of an appearance by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. In 2005, the FISA court approved all 2,072 applications for surveillance the government submitted, altering the requests in 61 cases.