Warrantless Wiretaps

We’ve all been watching this one coming for months. The Bush Administration is vigorously defending what it considers its executive privilege, the ordering or sanctioning of secret domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens, without obtaining from a judge the legally required warrant to do so .

Many liberals and conservatives alike feel uneasy about this one. As well they should. It isn’t just wrong, in the sense that so much of our approach to domestic and international issues is wrongheaded these days, it’s dangerous.

Who performs this surveillance? By definition:

Secret Surveillance = Secret Police.

The Bush Administration argues that if it intended to break the law, why would it tell Congress? Isn’t this like saying, “Yeah, I robbed the bank, but I told my wife”?

The Bush Administration argues that it’s not “mining data”, another straw-man argument that implies it’s OK to be underhanded as long as you’re not too systematic about it.

We knew the Patriot Act would be a lot harder to get rid of than just waiting for its authorization to expire. Without the checks and balances of the judicial system, overzealous surveillance agencies are free to make up the rules as they go along.

Would they do that? Like the joke about the high-priced harlot, their virtuosity has already been established. Now we’re just haggling over price.

What’s especially dangerous about it? These rules can make it difficult or impossible to detect egregious excesses. When the rules and implementation are secret, we can neither scrutinize the rules, nor monitor the conduct.

In so many ways, the United States has become the strongest and freest nation in the world by breaking the mold on old, established conventions. We dared to be different.

Now, ask yourself how many countries in history you can think of that, having at some point established a domestic secret police apparatus, then became a freer people in the long run?

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