Monday, December 19, 2005

Illegal Surveillance: Why?

The Bush administration is floundering painfully as it attempts to defend of its program of warrantless domestic electronic searches. The Washington Post quotes Attorney General Alberto Gonzales:

Gonzales said that while FISA prohibits eavesdropping without court approval, it takes an exception where Congress "otherwise authorizes." That authorization, he said, was implicit in the authorization for the use of military force in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks.

This is preposterous; Congress authorized the use of military force against al Qaeda and the Taliban, not warrantless searches in the United States.

Moreover, the argument that warrantless searches were burdensome because of the time that it takes to get a warrant has been shown to be baseless. Since the administration could already conduct surveillance for 72 hours without a warrant under the law, the real reason must be not that they couldn’t get warrants quickly enough, but rather that they feared that courts might reject some of their requests for warrants. And why did they fear such rejection? Judges are generally very willing to grant warrants.

The most generous interpretation is that the administration feared that there might be instances where they were suspicious of an individual, but would not be able to show probable cause. There are less generous interpretations, involving possible eavesdropping against journalists or political enemies.

What’s the real reason? Citizen Cain doesn’t know. But the Bush administration sure hasn’t put forward the real reason yet.