Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales defended President Bush's domestic spying program Tuesday.
Speaking to students at Georgetown University's law school, Gonzales said a 15-day grace period allowing warrantless eavesdropping under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act demonstrated that Congress knew such surveillance "would be essential in wartime."
But Gonzales said following that law would overly burden the government with paperwork and other requirements when it needed to respond quickly.
Gonzales was supplying legal arguments to Bush's comments Monday that the eavesdropping should be called a "terrorist surveillance program."
Gonzales said the legal standard the administration used in deciding whether to carry out surveillance on people with suspected ties to Al Qaeda was equivalent to the standard required for the 4th Amendment, which bans unreasonable searches and seizures.
Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University, said that Gonzales' comments did not explain why the administration didn't go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain warrants.
"If they are using a probable cause standard, they would have no problem going to the FISA court," Saltzburg said. "The executive might think there's a reasonable basis. Courts might not agree."
During Gonzales' half-hour speech, more than a dozen young people turned their backs to him and held up a banner.
The banner, based on a Benjamin Franklin quote, read: "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."