A new law authorizes eavesdropping - without court warrants -- by U.S. intelligence officials on international phone calls and e-mails to or from Americans inside the United States. Senator Bernie Sanders voted against the legislation. "We can fight terrorism without undermining the Constitution," he said.
The new law approved last weekend by Congress and signed by President Bush gives virtually unchecked power to an administration that has a history of abusing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The new law allows searches without court warrants, in other words without oversight by the judicial branch of the federal government. It gives Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales responsibility for setting procedures for determining whose telephone calls and e-mails are collected. It also gives McConnell and Gonzales the role of monitoring compliance with the procedures.
Before the Senate voted on the bill, Sanders joined Senators Russ Feingold and Robert C. Byrd in voicing serious reservations. In a letter, the senators raised concerns and concluded, "Given all that has come out in the last year and a half about this administration's decision to violate [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] after 9/11, we are reluctant to amend [it] without assurances that the administration will actually follow the law."
The votes last weekend by the House and the Senate have been condemned by civil liberties groups and by editorials in leading newspapers under headlines including "The Road to Hell" in the Brattleboro Reformer and "The Fear of Fear Itself" in The New York Times. Here is a sampling:
The Road to Hell
"Thankfully, Vermont 's congressional delegation did not fall for Bush's "vote for this bill or the terrorists will kill us all" nonsense. They were smart enough to recognize this bill for what it is -- another power grab by an administration that recognizes no limits on its power."
Los Angeles Times
The Politics of Fear
"That this flawed legislation was approved by a Democratic Congress is a reminder that many in the party are still fearful that they will be labeled "soft on terror" if they don't give this administration what it wants when it wants it. But the party may be equally injured by the perception that it won't stand up for what it believes."
The New York Times
The Fear of Fear Itself
"It was appalling to watch over the last few days as Congress — now led by Democrats — caved in to yet another unnecessary and dangerous expansion of President Bush's powers, this time to spy on Americans in violation of basic constitutional rights. Many of the 16 Democrats in the Senate and 41 in the House who voted for the bill said that they had acted in the name of national security, but the only security at play was their job security."
All Tapped Out on Civil Liberties
"The majority's new leaders should have insisted on a full debate over whether the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act needed to be loosened and over how best to ensure careful judicial review of any changes to that law." . . . It's difficult to maintain a system of checks and balances when one branch simply checks out."
Congress, more concerned with protecting its political backside than with safeguarding the privacy of American citizens, left town…after caving in to administration demands that it allow warrantless surveillance of the phone calls and e-mails of American citizens, with scant judicial supervision and no reporting to Congress about how many communications are being intercepted. To call this legislation ill-considered is to give it too much credit: It was scarcely considered at all.
Orange County Register
Expanding the Surveillance State
"The passage and signing of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (S.1927) revision last weekend demonstrates that even a president with low approval ratings can bully Congress into passing a bill that dramatically increases the capacity of government agents to spy on Americans and their electronic communications by wielding vague threats that dissenters will be blamed if there's another terrorist attack."
Milford (Mass.) Daily News
"President Bush has not lost his ability to bully Congress into passing national-security legislation against its better judgment."