Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”     Frederick Bastiat

January 17, 2007

The End Of Warrantless Wiretaps

by Doug Mataconis

There really is no other way to spin this story except to say that the Bush Administration has given in, there won’t be anymore warrantless wiretaps:

The Justice Department announced today that the National Security Agency’s controversial warrantless surveillance program has been placed under the authority of a secret surveillance court, marking an abrupt change in approach by the Bush administration after more than a year of heated debate.

In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said that orders issued on Jan. 10 by an unidentified judge puts the NSA program under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret panel that oversees most intelligence surveillance in the United States.

Gonzales also wrote that the current NSA program will effectively be abandoned after its current authorization expires in favor of the new approach.

The change marks a dramatic turn of events for the Justice Department, which has strenuously argued for more than a year that the NSA spying program was legal and that the foreign intelligence court was poorly suited to oversee the program, as many lawmakers had advocated.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, President Bush authorized the NSA to monitor telephone calls and e-mail between the United States and overseas if one party to the communication was believed to be linked to al-Qaeda or related groups.

The program did not require any court oversight, prompting widespread objections from privacy advocates and many legal experts after the program was first revealed in news reports in December 2005. Bush and his aides strongly defended the legality and efficacy of the NSA spying initiative, which they dubbed the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.”

In his letter to lawmakers, Gonzales said a judge on the surveillance court issued orders “authorizing the government to target for collection international communications into or out of the United States where there is probable cause to believe” that one of the targets is a member of al-Qaeda or an associated group.

Hmm, so the Bush Administration has decided to follow the Fourth Amendment after all. Will wonders never cease.

Of course, as Kip points out, there isn’t any reason that this program couldn’t be continued in secret, but the difference now is that, if (and when) such a secret program were to become public, the spectacle of a n Administration evading the very oversight program it set up would be pretty embarrassing.

For the moment, I’ll chalk this one up as a victory for the Constitution.

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8 Comments

  1. Hooray – another win for the terrorists!

    Comment by Jerry — January 17, 2007 @ 7:59 pm
  2. hey jerry, chalk one up for morons and Jerry’s Kids!!! YOU WIN!!

    Comment by Jerry — January 17, 2007 @ 8:02 pm
  3. i cant stand this! what is the big deal?! its not like people are sitting on the other line listening, laughing and recording your call to your buddy down the street! they moniter suspected terrorists and people with ties to terrorist groups. unless you call a bagdad resident every other day and have been assosiating with a suspected terrorists you have nothing to worry about, thanks to this very simailar program the british’s scotlan yard (which has much more athourity) was able to capture multiple terrorists, and foil they plans to kill thousands more americans.

    Comment by jake — January 17, 2007 @ 8:03 pm
  4. TLP>>For the moment, I’ll chalk this one up as a victory for the Constitution

    And a LOOOOONG overdue one, at that!

    … welcome to my favorites list, TLP.

    Comment by Ben — January 17, 2007 @ 8:41 pm
  5. So, the people finally win one. What is that we win one out of about a billion. My rights have deterioated so bad that I don’t even like my country any more. Maybe, that is why I don’t spend much time here any more.

    Comment by Pablo Lambiano — January 17, 2007 @ 10:24 pm
  6. what surprises me are the comments you got from readers.
    don’t these people know that what made the USA great is its constitution and the rule of law, don’t they understand that a secret surveillance program is a KGB style of government . once you abolish the rule of law then you open the door to tyranny , police state and the fall of democracy ( that’s how the terrorists win) .
    which former president said “if you sacrifice freedom for security you get neither freedom nor security”
    i would chalk one down for : USA , democracy ,and hope for the world.

    Comment by al — January 17, 2007 @ 10:47 pm
  7. I met a young man from Basra named Aysar. I asked him if he would support wiretapping in his homeland if his government demanded it for the sake of security. He answered that it would be acceptable only as a temporary solution to instability. This end to the American wiretapping program may coincide the Bush administration’s exit from Iraq and perhaps may even indicate a more relaxed approach to the so called “war on terror”. Open question: If sectarian violence continues to rise in Iraq, would wiretapping in Iraq by Iraqis or neutral party be appropriate at least in principle if not in practice (leaders are majority Shi’ite etc.) as a means to quell this instability, or is this a fundamental liberty for not only Americans but all people of the world that must never be compromised, even in times such as these?

    Comment by willem — January 18, 2007 @ 5:09 am
  8. I hate to dash water on the congratulations, but why suddenly are we protected by intrusion into our private conversations?

    On of the criticisms frequently leveled at the administration is that there was no practical reason to avoid going to the FISA court since it acts like a rubber stamp; they give the benefit of the doubt to their coworkers in the executive branch. The cry was that the FISA court would in no way hinder the President.

    This is a secret court. It’s proceedings are in no way publicised.

    So, instead of a small pool of people whose salaries are paid by the treasury department secretly deciding to eavesdrop on conversations, now there is a larger pool of people whose salaries are paid by the treasury department who are secretly deciding to eavesdrop on conversations.

    I feel so much better.

    Comment by tarran — January 18, 2007 @ 7:06 am

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