The senate defeated, on a 45-43 vote, a Democratic alternative, which would have placed tighter controls on the spying and provided for independent assessments of the attorney general's implementation of the measure.

 

The White House applauded the senate vote and urged the House to quickly follow suit.

 

The bill "will give our intelligence professionals the essential tools they need to protect our nation," Tony Fratto, the White House spokesman, said.

 

"It is urgent that this legislation become law as quickly as possible." Fratto added.

 

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."


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."

   

The bill would allow the administration to continue the warrant-less surveillance but require it to describe to a secret federal court the procedures it uses in targeting foreign suspects.

 

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

   

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, passed in 1978, requires the government to obtain orders from the secret FISA court to conduct surveillance of suspected terrorists in the United States.

   

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

 

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.