Monday, August 06, 2007

Congress rubber-stamps Bush wiretapping bill to spy on Americans

It is official. Congress has just given President Bush the legal authority to spy on Americans without any court order. The Senate passed the bill in a late-night session on August 3, 2007, by a vote of 60-28. The House passed the wiretapping bill Saturday August 4, 2007, by a vote of 227-183. President Bush signed the bill into law on Sunday, August 5, 2007.

Before I get into this topic, let's get into some background. According to The New York Times story on Bush's signing of the wiretapping law:

Previously, the government needed search warrants approved by a special intelligence court to eavesdrop on telephone conversations, e-mail messages and other electronic communications between individuals inside the United States and people overseas, if the government conducted the surveillance inside the United States.

Today, most international telephone conversations to and from the United States are conducted over fiber-optic cables, and the most efficient way for the government to eavesdrop on them is to latch on to giant telecommunications switches located in the United States.

By changing the legal definition of what is considered “electronic surveillance,” the new law allows the government to eavesdrop on those conversations without warrants — latching on to those giant switches — as long as the target of the government’s surveillance is “reasonably believed” to be overseas.

For example, if a person in Indianapolis calls someone in London, the National Security Agency can eavesdrop on that conversation without a warrant, as long as the N.S.A.’s target is the person in London.

Are you getting it now? The Bush administration has just made an end-run around the Fourth Amendment. By specifically declaring that the target of the NSA wiretapping is the person in London, the NSA can also listen into the conversation with the person in Indianapolis without going to the FISA court for a search warrant. This is a huge loophole here. The actual NSA target for this particular NY Times example may have been that person in Indianapolis, but because of the Fourth Amendment, that person was protected against unwarranted searches and seizures by the state. If the NSA wanted to listen in on that Indianapolis person's conversations, they had to get a search warrant. With this new law in place, the NSA can say on paper that they wanted to listen London person's conversations, when in reality, they were more interested in the Indianapolis person's conversations in this wiretapped call between Indianapolis and London. That is the real scare here. And what is more, who is still to say that the Bush administration is listening in on these calls for terrorism-fighting reasons, or for potential political reasons? Because with this law, the Bush administration can listen in on conversations from their political enemies without any warrants, simply because the NSA is supposedly targeting the foreign end of this wiretap.

It gets worst. According to the NY Times:

The legislation to change the surveillance act was rushed through both the House and Senate in the last days before the August recess began.

The White House’s push for the change was driven in part by a still-classified ruling earlier this year by the special intelligence court, which said the government needed to seek court-approved warrants to monitor those international calls going through American switches.

The new law, which is intended as a stopgap and expires in six months, also represents a power shift in terms of the oversight and regulation of government surveillance.

The new law gives the attorney general and the director of national intelligence the power to approve the international surveillance, rather than the special intelligence court. The court’s only role will be to review and approve the procedures used by the government in the surveillance after it has been conducted. It will not scrutinize the cases of the individuals being monitored.

The law also gave the administration greater power to force telecommunications companies to cooperate with such spying operations. The companies can now be compelled to cooperate by orders from the attorney general and the director of national intelligence.

You've got to love this. Instead of having the FISA court approve the NSA wiretappings, Congress gave that power to this nation's incredible Bastion of Truth--Alberto Gonzales! Yes, we're talking the same Alberto Gonzales, who has consistently lied to Congress on the U.S. attorney firings as a CYA to the Bush White House. Gonzales will now be given the power to approve those NSA wiretaps--not the court. Gonzales is also given the power to force the telecommunications companies to cooperate with the Bush White House in these spying operations. This is the powers of a dictator here.

And the congressional Democrats just lied down, and let President Bush screw them! I really don't know what to say here. Were the congressional Democrats too afraid of this administration calling them "weak on terrorism?" Were the Democrats fearful of Republicans stirring up the fear-mongering of potential al Qaeda terrorist attacks that could take place in Washington DC, while the "lazy" Democrats were fiddling around on vacation, instead of giving President Bush more terrorist-fighting power? Or did the congressional Democrats really just wanted to say "Screw it," and give Bush whatever he wanted so that they could go on vacation? I really don't know what the answer is here. All I can say is that I'm disgusted with the Democrats capitulating to Bush. I can understand when the Democrats can't get legislation through Congress because of Republican obstructionism, or even a presidential veto. But here the congressional Democrats gave President Bush everything he wanted for spying on us without any oversight, without any fight.


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