Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Power To Eavesdrop Open To Interpretation

There are enough serious questions -- and conflicting interpretations of the law -- surrounding the revelation that the Bush administration has been eavesdropping on domestic-to-foreign telephone calls and e-mails and vice versa that a top-to-bottom congressional review is in order.
President George W. Bush
President Bush confirms a report that, by secret executive order, the National Security Agency is authorized to spy on American citizens without a warrant. So hot was the fallout that the Senate blocked reauthorization of the Patriot Act. Critics want hearings. And they should be held. Some argue that the practice, at its base, violates the Fourth Amendment and, as a matter of law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. But one provision of that act indeed does authorize such surveillance without any court order.
President Jimmy Carter
Neither is President George Bush the first president to authorize such a practice. President Jimmy Carter, for example "a Democrat not known for his vigilance in the war on terror," signed a similar executive order in May 1979, citing the very Foreign Surveillance Act that Bush critics say has been violated. Good intelligence is the key to fighting the war on terror. The powers of the President are constitutionally broad in this regard; he has a duty to protect this country. But the check and balance of first obtaining a warrant -- hardly a hurdle too high -- should be sacrosanct. And any laws that undermine this principle should be struck.