WASHINGTON -- Most Americans want the Bush administration to be given court approval before eavesdropping on people inside the United States, even if those calls might involve suspected terrorists, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll.
Over the past three weeks, President Bush and top aides have defended the electronic monitoring program they secretly launched shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, as a vital tool to protect the nation from Al Qaeda and its affiliates.
Yet 56 percent of respondents in the AP-Ipsos poll said the government should be required to get a court warrant to eavesdrop on the overseas calls and the e-mail messages of US citizens, when those communications are believed to be tied to terrorism.
Agreeing with the White House, 42 percent of those surveyed do not believe the court approval is necessary.
''We're at war," Bush said during a New Year's Day visit to San Antonio. ''And as commander in chief, I've got to use the resources at my disposal, within the law, to protect the American people. . . . It's a vital, necessary program."
According to the poll, age matters in how people view the monitoring. Nearly two-thirds of those between age 18 to 29 believe warrants should be required, while people 65 and older are evenly divided.
Party affiliation is a factor, too. Almost three-fourths of Democrats and one-third of Republicans said they want to require court warrants.
The eavesdropping is run by the National Security Agency, the government's code-makers and code-breakers.