warrantless wiretapping ruled illegal

August 17, 2006

The New York Times reports that a federal judge in Detroit, Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, ruled today that the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, is in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments and an over-extension of the administration’s authority under the Constitution. The program allows the NSA to eavesdrop on conversations to and from the United States when one party is suspected of involvement with Arab terrorist group al Qaeda. This is a significant blow to the President, who has long claimed that the powers granted to the Executive Branch in the wake of 9/11–to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to combat terrorism–allow him to circumvent the FISA court that exists to oversee wiretapping requests and activities.

All I can say is, it’s about time. I am not overly concerned about potential abuse of the eavesdropping enabled by the advanced technology utilized by the NSA and other agencies, ECHELON and the like, but I have long agreed with many Democrats’ beliefs that the program constitutes a flouting of the doctrine of separation of powers and a refusal to submit to the authority of the law. Terrorists must be sought out and rendered impotent, but only through methods that provide transparency and oversight.

The provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are more than generous, allowing the administration to conduct emergency wiretapping activities and notify the court within 90 days; I see no reason, none at all, that the government should have a need to conceal any such activities from the court. Further, I dispute their claims that a defense of the program would endanger “national security.” In her opinion, Judge Taylor wrote, “whenever possible, sensitive information must be disentangled from nonsensitive information to allow for the release of the latter.” By ruling as she has, she has made it clear that the governement cannot hide behind the veil of “national security” any longer. This administration can and will be held to account for its actions, war on terror or no, and today’s ruling is a significant step in that direction.

–D. S. W.

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