The President's Warrantless Domestic Spying Program

In late 2005, the news media reported that shortly after 9/11, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on Americans, without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for spying on U.S. soil. Under that order signed by the president, the NSA monitored the international emails and calls of hundreds if not thousands of people, without warrants, and continues to do so today.

Even worse, most of the likely thousands of Americans that had been eavesdropped on as part of the “terrorism surveillance” program have been dismissed as suspects. The government has been monitoring the personal communications of innocent Americans.

The program came to light when nearly a dozen current and former NSA officials, operating under the condition of anonymity, told the New York Times of their concerns about lack of checks and balances over the program, and about its legality. Since the mission of the NSA is to spy on communications abroad, the program is a major shift in American intelligence-gathering practices, and an unlawful one.

What the Law Requires

The Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) indisputably requires that intelligence agents must have a court order to conduct electronic surveillance of Americans on these shores. But the administration made a pointed decision to disregard that long-standing requirement and eavesdropped on Americans’ private communications without any judicial checks.

FISA clearly requires judicial oversight of all electronic surveillance of Americans living in the U.S., including anti-terrorism investigations. Allowing the government to continue to monitor the private phone calls and emails of ordinary Americans without so much as a warrant sets a disturbing precedent for administrations to come.

We have no way of knowing if personal records of individuals not even suspected of wrongdoing are being swept into extensive federal databases for government use at will. Such a grim possibility is certainly not what our forefathers intended when they guaranteed all Americans freedom from unreasonable search and seizures.

Congress Must Intervene

While there has been significant public outcry, and there is agreement among political watchers that this program is an albatross around the president’s neck, he has continued to bully Congress into avoiding the only appropriate course of action – a full and open, bipartisan investigation into the entirety of the program. Congress must conduct that thorough investigation today.

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