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Government needs a reason and a warrant to spy on Americans

Thursday, March 16, 2006

In a previous post, Hyperbole? You Decide, I reproduced for you a letter conversation that took place through my local newspaper about the President's illegal spying program. I wanted to follow that up with a copy of my letter that was printed in the last issue of the Journal. (An archived copy can be read here.)
Government needs a reason and a warrant to spy on Americans

Dear Editor,

A recent letter writer requested that the Journal supply names proving that Americans were surveilled by the President’s eavesdropping program. How about your own name? Can you prove that you haven’t been bugged? Can you show the names of those under surveillance? No? Apparently neither can Congress. "The Bush administration refuses to say -- in public or in closed session of Congress -- how many Americans in the past four years have had their conversations recorded or their e-mails read by intelligence analysts without court authority." (Washington Post)

The letter also claimed that members of Congress were briefed and gave their official approval. That neither makes it right nor constitutional. Determination of this program’s constitutionality rests with the Supreme Court, not the Congress.

I want to make two quick points on the legality of the President’s program. The first has to do with the Fourth Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

In plain English, the Amendment says that in order to suspend an individual's rights, the case must be presented before an unbiased third party. If the cause is just (i.e. evidence of illegal activity), a warrant is issued. This is the supreme law of the land, regardless of circumstances.

The second point refers to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the letter’s statement that "warrants are only called for in criminal cases, not intelligence." This is just plain wrong. We can prove this by looking at 50USC36§1802(a)(1), which reads: "Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year if the Attorney General certifies in writing under oath that... (B) there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party."

The statute clearly states that without a warrant there shall be no surveillance of U.S. persons. It conforms perfectly with the Fourth Amendment.

Government's primary job is to protect all the rights of the people, not just those that are convenient. Your letter attempted to make the law fit around the actions of the Bush administration when, in fact, it is their actions that need to fit within the law... and they clearly don’t.

If government needs to listen in on our phone calls or to read our mail, they had better have a good reason -- and a warrant -- for violating our rights.

Don Bangert, Granite Falls

('s close enough to what I originally wrote.)


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