New law codifies loss of American civil rights
President Bush has signed a law that broadly expands the government's spying powers.
PRESIDENT Bush had good reason to indulgently praise Congress for passage of wiretap legislation that surrenders citizens' rights to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, and releases telecommunications companies from liability for participating in the administration's once-secret spying program.
The new law eliminates any chance of holding the Bush administration accountable for its unlawful actions. It also expands the government's spying powers for reasons other than terrorism. It weakens constitutional safeguards with a loophole that permits wiretaps on Americans without a court order, just with the government's say-so.
By granting telcoms immunity retroactively and in the future, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act nullifies nearly 40 lawsuits that could have led to examinations of the administration's unauthorized program.
A federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law, filed just hours after Bush's Rose Garden signing of the measure, could be a way to rein in the government's expanded network.
The Senate approved the bill that gives the executive branch power to require companies like AT&T, Verizon and Google to turn over text message, e-mail and phone call data without specific court orders when one party is believed to be overseas. Though Missouri Republican Sen. Christopher Bond says no one needs to worry "unless you have al-Qaida on your speed dial," the blanket powers could intrude on innocent communications without allowing for protest or remedy.
The administration has never fully explained why it can't maintain constitutional guarantees while spying. Moreover, the few members of Congress who have received intelligence briefings on the program say the new law is a mistake, an eradication of due process.
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