Do not sanction warrantless wiretaps
The Senate is mulling legislation to allow long-term eavesdropping without a warrant.
IN a rush to absolve President Bush of accusations of abuse of power, Senate Republicans are pushing legislation that would give legislative sanction to unwarranted eavesdropping on Americans. The bill would not make the surveillance constitutional but could make Congress a partner in trampling on people's rights.
Bipartisan astonishment permeated Congress after the New York Times reported in December that the National Security Agency had ignored the Constitution's prohibition against eavesdropping in the United States without a court-approved warrant. Bush has insisted that constitutional war powers allow him to conduct such surveillance as intercepting international phone calls or e-mail inside the United States.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., pointed out that warrantless eavesdropping violates the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and promised hearings. Under that law, the administration is required to obtain warrants from a special FISA court in order to conduct eavesdropping in the United States, although it can proceed with surveillance and obtain the warrant up to 72 hours later.
Senate Republicans are proposing that the eavesdropping be allowed for at least 45 days before seeking a FISA warrant, with unlimited renewal. Essentially, the warrantless spying would be allowed to continue indefinitely. Bush has insisted that he has such inherent power.
The Senate Intelligence Committee plans to appoint a seven-member subcommittee to oversee the eavesdropping, but a thorough investigation should have preceded legislation aimed at bringing the espionage agency under control.
If the bill is enacted, it will not derail lawsuits challenging the program in court. The measure appears to allow violation of the constitutional protection against unwarranted searches, regardless of whether Congress is a party to the behavior.
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