It seems I'm at risk of
losing (even my small-l) libertarian credentials on the issue
of warrantless wiretapping of terrorists. For example, Julian
Sanchez writes at
Like Bill Murray's hapless weatherman in Groundhog Day,
America is locked in a perpetual September 12, 2001. How else to
explain this weekend's frenzied
passage of a sweeping
amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA),
effectively authorizing the program
of extrajudicial wiretaps first approved in secret by President
George W. Bush shortly after the terrorist attacks of 2001? How else to
make sense of a Democratic Congress capitulating to the demands of a wildly unpopular
executive for yet another expansion of government surveillance
powers, mere months after the disclosure
of the rampant abuses that followed the last such expansion?
Gosh, I feel abashed! But while Julian derides a "September 12"
mentality, I'm pretty sure I prefer it to the blissful ignorance
of the September 10 mentality.
And Jacob Sullum, who I like quite a bit, is also miffed:
When you talk to your mother on the phone, do you have a reasonable
expectation of privacy? I thought I did, but apparently I don't—at
least, not anymore, because my mother lives in Jerusalem.
the inaptly named Protect
America Act of 2007, which President Bush signed
into law on Sunday, the federal government no longer needs a warrant to
eavesdrop on phone calls or read email messages between people in the
U.S. and people in other countries. Unless the courts overturn this law
or Congress declines to renew it when it expires in six months,
Americans will have no legally enforceable privacy rights that protect
the content of their international communications.
And then I look at today's WSJ
To hear the critics tell it, the warrantless wiretapping law passed by
Congress this weekend is an immoral license for a mad President Bush and
his spymasters to eavesdrop on all Americans. [Yup, see above.]
For those willing to
believe such things, mere facts don't matter. But for anyone still
amenable to reason, the deal is worth parsing for its national security
precedents, good and bad. The next Democratic President might be
The good news is that the new law will at least allow
the National Security Agency to monitor terrorist communications again.
That ability has been severely limited since January, when Mr. Bush
agreed to put the wiretap program under the supervision of a special
court created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
The new law provides a six-month fix to the outdated FISA provision that
had defined even foreign-to-foreign calls as subject to a U.S. judicial
There's also a alarm-defusing op-ed
in the LA
from David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey.
The ink is still wet on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
amendments, adopted by Congress in the final hours before its August
recess, and already this six-month-long compromise legislation has drawn
strident criticisms [Yup, see above.] from civil libertarians, who believe that it has
given the president too much power.
The truth, however, is that the amendments mostly return to FISA's
original intent, to set requirements for judicial review of domestic
wiretaps while allowing the interception of foreign communications
without a warrant or other judicial order.
But neither goes as far as Andrew C. McCarthy, writing at National
; the problem is the FISA legislation itself, which has no
FISA doesn't need a fix. It needs a decent burial. Like the wall [the
pre-9/11 legal barrier erected
between intelligence and law enforcement investigations], it's a
bad idea that keeps proving itself to be a worse idea. We shouldn't need
another 9/11 before we open our eyes to the undeniable.
Finally, for some belated pyrotechnics, you might want to check out this here
NYT editorial (predictably hysterical about "yet another
unnecessary and dangerous expansion of President Bush's powers")
and the reply
from Congressman Pete Hoesktra (who's a little pissed at what he deems
"the scare tactics being perpetuated by the Times, which has knowingly
and willfully misrepresented the new law to scare the American people.")
[These last two links via Katie's Mom.]
All in all, enough links to give you both sides. I'd say "make up your
own mind," but I'm pretty sure you, good reader, do not need my
advice or permission to do that.