'Loophole'
 
John Boehner, House minority leader and Ohio Republican representative, said: "After months of prodding by House Republicans, congress has finally closed the terrorist loophole in our surveillance law - and America will be the safer for it."

"After months of prodding by House Republicans, congress has finally closed the terrorist loophole in our surveillance law - and America will be the safer for it"

John Boehner,  Republican House minority leader
Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, stated opposition to the bill, saying: "We think it is not the bill that ought to pass."

However, he said Democrats were unable to prevent it after strong lobbying by the White House and warnings of possible attacks on the US.

Bush had called on the congress to pass the bill before legislators begin a month-long break this weekend.

The measure allows the National Security Agency to listen in on telephone and email conversations between people in the US and suspects abroad.

Under the bill, which was approved by the Senate on Friday, intelligence officers will be able to listen in to such conversations without obtaining prior approval from a special court.

Harry Reid, the senate Democratic leader, criticised the bill, saying it "authorises warrant-less searches and surveillance of American phone calls, e-mails, homes, offices and personal records for however long (it takes for) an appeal to a court of review."

The administration would have to submit to a secret court a description of the procedures they used to determine that warrant-less surveillance only targeted people outside the United States.

The court, created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), would review the procedures and order changes, if needed, but the administration could still appeal.

Warrant-less surveillance

Mike McConnell, the director of National Intelligence, said earlier he needed the legislation "in order to protect the nation from attacks that are being planned today to inflict mass casualties on the United States."

If signed into law, the senate bill would expire in six months. During that period, congress would seek to write permanent legislation.

Bush authorised the interception without warrants of communications between people in the US and others overseas if one had suspected ties to terrorists in the wake of the attacks on September 11 2001.

Critics say the programme violated the FISA law, but Bush argued he had wartime powers to do so.

A recent ruling by the FISA court barred the government from eavesdropping on foreign suspects whose messages were being routed through US communications carriers, including Internet sites, prompting the Bush administration to call for the new bill.