Sixteen Democrats Allow Republicans to Expand Warrantless Wiretaps

Enough Democrats in the Senate willing to give in on principle and joined with the Republicans to allow for expansion of warrantless wiretaps. I always found it strange that Bush took this course. If he had requested this authority in the first place, there is no question he would have received a rubber stamp when the Republicans controlled the Senate. I imagine it is yet another example where he simply believed he was above the law, and didn’t anticipate, or care about, the political consequences. Thanks to sixteen Democrats, he is still able get a rubber stamp from Congress.

Bush “threatened to hold Congress in session into its scheduled summer recess if it did not approve the changes he wanted.” Did some Democrats go along so that their vacations wouldn’t be interrupted? Perhaps those members deserve a permanent vacation following the next election..Among the reactions to the bill reported by The Washington Post:

Privacy advocates accused the Democrats of selling out and charged that this bill gives the government more authority than it had under a controversial warrantless wiretapping program begun in secret after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Under that program, the government could conduct surveillance without judicial oversight only if it had a reason to believe that one party to the call was a member of or affiliated with al-Qaeda or a related terrorist organization. This bill drops that condition, they noted.

Democrats “have a Pavlovian reaction: Whenever the president says the word ‘terrorism,’ they roll over and play dead,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Washington legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, predicted that the bill’s approval would lead to the monitoring of ordinary Americans by the National Security Agency, which conducts most of the government’s electronic surveillance. “If this bill becomes law, Americans who communicate with a person abroad can count on one thing: The NSA may be listening,” he said.

An editorial in The New York Times appearing before the final vote places the issue in context:

The fight is over the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires the government to obtain a warrant before eavesdropping on electronic communications that involve someone in the United States. The test is whether there is probable cause to believe that the person being communicated with is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist.

Mr. Bush decided after 9/11 that he was no longer going to obey that law. He authorized the National Security Agency to intercept international telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans and other residents of this country without a court order. He told the public nothing and Congress next to nothing about what he was doing, until The Times disclosed the spying in December 2005.

They give two lines “that must not be crossed.” At least we got one out of two as these provisions do expire in six months:

First, all electronic surveillance of communication that originates or ends in the United States must be subject to approval and review by the FISA court under the 1978 law. (That court, by the way, has rejected only one warrant in the last two years.)

Second, any measure Congress approves now must have a firm expiration date. Closed-door meetings under the pressure of a looming vacation are no place for such serious business.

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