No case for NSA wiretap

By Brian Pierce

In this country, wiretapping requires a court order and the way I know that is because the president told me so a couple years ago.

“A wiretap requires a court order,” President Bush declared in a statement in April of 2004. He added, “When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order when we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand [that] constitutional guarantees are in place…because we value the Constitution.”

We now know that even as President Bush was speaking those words, he was allowing the National Security Agency to secretly wiretap American citizens without a warrant or judicial review of any kind.

This NSA data-fishing program is not only another program in a series of decisions made by the president that puts his credibility seriously in question, it is a flagrant violation of the law.

Apparently we value the Constitution only to an extent.

The administration claims that the authorization granted by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks to use military force that allowed the president to invade Afghanistan, legitimizes this program.

I am not a lawyer, nor do I claim to be one, but it is my understanding that Congress does not repeal entire pieces of legislation with a wink and a nudge, which is the only way one can argue that military force authorization allows for unchecked wiretapping by the executive.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act specifically requires a special court to authorize wiretapping, and the authorization of force did not repeal or amend this act.

The administration might as well argue that President Bush is authorized to personally knock off a liquor store.

Everybody wants the government to do everything within its power to protect us, and if somebody in this country is receiving phone calls from members of Al-Qaida, it is eminently reasonable to eavesdrop on that person’s calls. But that is hardly the issue at hand.

The issue is, why not just get a warrant?

Speed is not the issue. FISA allows for wiretapping without a court order in an emergency so long as the FISA court is notified within 72 hours, a provision the government has used repeatedly in the past.

At least two of the court’s judges are required by law to live in the Washington, D.C. area to specifically allow for rapid action when necessary.

In any case, if the president did not feel that those provisions were adequate, he had an opportunity and a responsibility to change them through the customary democratic process, not in secret and not in violation of existing law.

Ask yourself if there is any question whether Congress, after the Sept. 11 attacks, would have enacted changes to FISA in order for the president to be sure he could protect the American people.

President Bush, instead, chose to put himself above the law. Instead of an investigation into who leaked this program to the press, a better course of action would be an independent investigation into his executive misconduct.

Brian Pierce is a junior in LAS. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]