Warrantless Wiretapping Threatens Our Republic

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

On April 20th,
2004, President Bush delivered a speech in Buffalo, New York, where,
in response to concerns over the state of civil liberties, he stated
the following: "Now, by the way, any time you hear the United
States government talking about a wiretap, it requires – a
wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed. When we’re
talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting
a court order before we do so." So when the New York Times
revealed back in December that the Bush administration had been
engaging in the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens since
2002, catching Bush in another blatant lie to the American people,
the Republican response was understandably fast and furious. President
Bush himself quickly denounced the leak as a "shameful act"
that jeopardized national security and immediately launched an investigation
to find the leakers — something he neglected to do when his own
staff leaked the name of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame – while
his P.R. department worked overtime, rebranding the spying operation
as a "terrorist surveillance program." In a January 20th
speech before the Republican National Committee, chief Bush political
advisor Karl Rove exemplified the White House spin, casting it as
a partisan matter and clouding the debate by declaring that President
Bush simply "believes if Al Qaeda is calling somebody in America,
it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling
and why. Some important Democrats clearly disagree." Of course,
as Rove surely knew, the issue critics take with the warrantless
wiretapping program isn't that it taps the conversations of Al Qaeda
— any sane person would support that — but that it clearly violates
not only the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which
provides a simple judicial process for obtaining warrants in just
such cases, but also the fourth amendment's requirement that a warrant
be obtained demonstrating “probable cause” before a citizen is to
be searched or spied upon. .

In its
defense, the Bush administration has claimed that the FISA law is
somehow too antiquated and limiting in a post-9/11 world. However,
this assertion is ridiculous on its face, as a look at the actual
FISA law and its record in practice reveals. Passed in 1978 in response
to the infamous abuses perpetrated by the government, spying on
and infiltrating domestic civil rights and antiwar groups — something
that has once again become rampant — the FISA law created a secret
court in which to hear cases involving electronic surveillance of
those persons suspected of engaging in espionage or international
terrorism. In 2001, the FISA law was expanded by the USA PATRIOT
act to include a broader definition of terrorism that was meant
to make it easier to pursue non-governmental terrorist organizations
such as al Qaeda, as requested by the Bush administration. Since
its conception, the court has heard over 18,000 requests for warrants,
rejecting only a handful, for an astounding approval rate of over
99 percent. In addition, the court even allows federal agencies
to seek a warrant retroactively, up to 72 hours after surveillance
has begun.

Simply
put, there is no legitimate reason why any president would need
to circumvent judicial review and the rights enshrined in our Constitution
to listen in on the conversations of terrorist suspects. The FISA
court is essentially a judicial rubber-stamp and is dubiously Constitutional
itself; particularly in the wake of 9/11, the court has been more
than willing to acquiesce to government demands for a warrant. Furthermore,
if FISA was indeed inadequate, as Bush has argued, then he should
have followed his Constitutional duty to enforce the laws of the
land while seeking to amend it through Congress — which had already
been done in 2001, just months before he secretly began his warrantless
wiretapping program. By claiming the unilateral right as commander-in-chief
to disregard our nation's laws and Constitution in the name of "national
security," Bush is placing himself above the law. By refusing
to abide by the FISA law, he is eliminating any sort of independent
review of those Americans he chooses to wiretap; we are told to
simply trust that only the "bad guys" are being monitored,
and that Bush won't abuse this power. Yet his refusal to allow for
the most basic element of judicial review or to follow existing
law, which already allows for the wiretapping of terrorist suspects,
leads to the inevitable assumption that it is not terrorists he
is wiretapping, but domestic political opponents. Regardless, it
lays a dangerous precedent by rejecting the balance of powers while
laying the groundwork for future presidents to continue the destruction
of our country's republican institutions.

As if warrantless
electronic surveillance wasn't disturbing enough, U.S. News &
World Report is reporting that the Bush administration has argued
for, and conducted, warrantless physical searches. The article
recounts the story of one defense attorney for an Oregon man accused
of illegally sending charitable contributions overseas, who claims
that his offices were broken into on several occasions. If these
allegations are true — and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has
already claimed that the administration has the inherent power to
do so — then we are just one step closer toward tyranny, if not
already there.

Throughout
the debate over the warrantless wiretaps, the administration's defense
has essentially rested on just two words: trust us. Yet in
the wake of their innumerable lies and deceptions on Iraq, and their
gross negligence and incompetence in response to Hurricane Katrina,
trust is the very last thing that this administration deserves.
Unrepentantly breaking federal law is grounds for impeachment, and
Senator Russ Feingold's (D-WI) move to censure President Bush is
a welcome step in drawing attention to the actions of this lawless
administration. It is now up to the citizens to hold their public
servants accountable to the Constitution and to enforce the idea
that in America, no man is above the law.

April
29, 2006

Charles
Davis [send him mail]
is currently a student at the University of San Diego, where he
is preparing for a future career in journalism. More of his articles
can be found on his personal
website
.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare
  • LRC Blog

  • LRC Podcasts