During his speech, more than a dozen students staged a silent protest by turning their backs to Gonzales, reports CBS News' Stephanie Lambidakis. Five students wearing black hoods unfurled a banner with a quote from Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."
Speaking to students at Georgetown University law school, Gonzales said a 15-day grace period allowing warrantless eavesdropping under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act demonstrates that Congress knew such surveillance "would be essential in wartime."
Gonzales was supplying legal arguments to the president's comments Monday that the effort should be called a "terrorist surveillance program."
Before his appearance at Georgetown, Gonzales said in a television interview that some congressional leaders told the administration in 2004 that it would not be possible to write legislation regarding the warrantless surveillance effort without compromising its effectiveness.
"We did go to certain members of the congressional leadership a year and a half ago," Gonzales said on The Early Show.
During his remarks in a packed law school lecture room at Georgetown, the attorney general also said the legal standard the administration uses in deciding whether to carry out surveillance on people with suspected al Qaeda ties is equivalent to the standard required for complying with the Fourth Amendment, which bans unreasonable searches and seizures.
The reasonable basis standard, said Gonzales, "is essentially the same as the traditional Fourth Amendment probable cause standard."
Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University, said that Gonzales' comments do not explain why the administration doesn'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," said Saltzburg. "The executive might think there's a reasonable basis. Courts might not agree."