The administration says the changes are intended to help the government deal with national security threats better by updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to bring it into line with rapid changes in communications technology.
The administration also wants new provisions to ease surveillance of people suspected of spreading weapons of mass destruction internationally. And the administration wants to allow government lawyers to decide whether a FISA court order is needed for electronic eavesdropping based on the target of the monitoring, not the mode of communication or the location where the surveillance is being conducted.
One effect of such a change would be that the National Security Agency would have the authority to monitor foreigners without seeking court approval, even if the surveillance is conducted by tapping phones and e-mail accounts in the United States.
Most often used by the FBI and the NSA, the 1978 FISA law has been updated several times since it was passed, including in 2001 to allow government access to certain business records. Among other tools available now, the government can break into homes, hotel rooms and cars to install hidden cameras and listening devices, as well as search drawers, luggage or computer hard drives.