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Simple remedy for domestic-spying deadlock

Message P. A. Triot

Among today’s headlines is one that defies belief: “Bush threatens to veto intelligence bill.”


It seems the occupant of the White House isn’t pleased with the version of the bill offered up by the House of Representatives––mainly because of what that version does not contain.


What’s missing from the House version is a provision that telecommunications companies are not granted immunity from prosecution or private lawsuits for cooperating with government agencies who break the law by illegal eavesdropping on U. S. citizens.


First, let’s give some perspective to this matter.


The fourth amendment to United States Constitution––one of the 10 amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights––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 probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."


Of course, any high schooler can tell you that the U. S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land and, for the most part, it has served this country well for 207 years.


Since that is the case, the U. S. Congress has no authority to simply give the president permission to conduct activities that violate the people’s right to be “secure in their person, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”


Please understand that any legislation that does an end-around the fourth amendment to the U. S. Constitution is unconstitutional on its face.


In fact, the Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) of 1978, which allows the government to obtain a warrant three days after the wiretap spying has begun, when held up to the fourth amendment standard, probably is unconstitutional itself.


Now, look at the current so-called intelligence bill.


Both the House and Senate version of the bill authorize the president to engage in wire-tapping of all telecommunications (including all telephone conversations, e-mails or any other means of electronic activity) of all the people in the world––Americans and foreigners––without first obtaining warrants to do so from a federal judge, not even the FISA court.


What is the FISA court, you ask? Why the FISA court is a secret federal court that is held in a secret location that was created by the FISA bill in 1978 to approve requests for search warrants (and wire-taps, etc.).


Since its inception, the FISA court has blocked fewer than 10 requests from federal investigators for search warrants, of the unknown thousands of requests it has processed.


Let’s review what we have.

1. The law that Congress passed a little more than a year ago gave the president authority to conduct searches without first obtaining a search warrant. That law is unconstitutional by any standard. The original law expired after one year (which date was passed about a week ago).

2. Congress is now trying to pass an extension to that unconstitutional law. Of course the extension itself is unconstitutional.

3. The president objects that the House of Representatives does not want to immunize telecommunications companies from liability for assisting the government in engaging in unconstitutional activities.


Obtaining search warrants has been a cornerstone of our society for 207 years. It’s more American than apple pie.


The solution for the president is as clear as the hand in front of my face. All he has to do is:


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P. A. Triot is the pen name of a retired journalist.
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