National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said Wednesday that a landmark surveillance law needs to be updated to accommodate advances in technology.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that McConnell is circulating draft legislation that civil liberties advocates say would make significant changes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows surveillance in espionage and other foreign intelligence investigations if approved by a special secretive court.
"The technology framework of the 1970s and today are vastly different," McConnell said. "What we are attempting to do is to make what we do relevant in today's technology base. It has changed so dramatically."
"As a citizen, I care as much or more about privacy and the rights of citizens as anyone at the table, and I am passionate about protecting that privacy," he added.
Citing the need for classification, he could not provide specific examples of problems with the FISA law now experienced by the FBI or National Security Agency - two agencies that often use its powers.
McConnell's plan would give the NSA the power to monitor foreigners without seeking court approval, even if the surveillance is conducted by tapping phones and e-mail accounts in the United States. It would also triple the life span of a FISA warrant targeting a non-U.S. citizen from 120 days to one year, allowing the government to monitor much longer without checking back in with a judge.
McConnell, who took over as spy chief in February, made the comments to reporters as he unveiled a 100-day plan for the 16 spy agencies and 100,000 employees he oversees. Items on his agenda range from ensuring that his authorities are adequate to forging closer relationships with foreign intelligence agencies.