Eavesdropping: How Far Will This Go?

The New York Times reported on Thursday that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to introduce a bill to the Senate floor which, if passed, would allow a secret court to review the Constitutionality of the NSA eavesdropping program.

In 2002, soon after signing the controversial Patriot Act, Bush authorized the program which allows officials to spy on e-mail and phone conversations between U.S. citizens and potential threats overseas without a warrant to expose terroristic plots. The New York Times first exposed the program much to the discontent of the White House in December of 2005.

A host of bills are currently active in Congress including one that would require the administration to update Congress frequently on the eavesdropping program and the other aforementioned bill that would allow the secret court to determine its legality.

It’s legality? In 1978, in response to eavesdropping programs prior to and during the Nixon Administration, President Jimmy Carter signed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which, in part states this:

“The President through the Attorney General may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order…for periods up to one year if the Attorney General certifies under oath in writing that there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party.”

It’s legality? The Fourth Amendment of the United States constitution protected such privacy rights of U.S. citizens long before President Carter signed FISA in 1978. That amendment reads:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probably cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The Patriot Act, passed without much resistance soon after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, already infringes on some of those constitutional rights by allowing the government free access to personal records.

In 2002, the “Human Rights Magazine” published an article written by John Podesta, a law professor and former Clinton chief of staff, called “USA Patriot Act: The Good, the Bad, and the Sunset.” The article’s relevance extends beyond that controversial bill. In it, Podesta wrote this:

“Many aspects of the bill increase the opportunity for law enforcement and the intelligence community to return to an era where they monitored and sometimes harassed individuals who were merely exercising their First Amendment rights. Nothing that occurred on September 11 mandates that we return to such an era.”

A yes vote in the Senate now could lead to the possible legitimization of further Constitutional and U.S. code violations, and a win for the Bush administration. It’s clear that in “Post 9/11,” America, safeguards should be taken to protect individual U.S. citizens and the nation as a whole from future attacks. But where will this end?

Tomorrow, will an official from our own government enter and search our homes without reason? Will the government hold U.S citizens secretly in prisons, without the proof of wrongdoing or a trial. If Mr. Bush and this administration continue this action, what exactly are those safeguards protecting? Our liberties and civil rights will have already been sacrificed.

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