NSA Wiretapping: The Debate

1 Feb

At the State of the Union, Bush put the NSA program squarely in the context of protecting Americans from terrorist threats.  Democrats have framed the issue as “domestic spying.”  Which is it?  Is this “circumevention” of the FISA court legal? (Fourteen legal scholars argue it is not.)

Seventh circuit judge Richard Posner asks “What if Wiretapping Works?” over at The New Republic, and has argued that we have a domestic intelligence crisis.

Is the President advocating an imperial presidency at the cost of American civil liberties and the consent of Congress?  Or is he doing what any American would demand: everything in his power to keep us safe from terrorism?

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2 Responses to “NSA Wiretapping: The Debate”

  1. Tom Michael February 6, 2006 at 7:39 pm #

    Hey Corey –

    Thanks for creating a common place to discuss this issue (and others) as the expansion of presidential power may prove to be the most lasting impact the Bush administration leaves on the presidency.

    As you know, the issue of the administrations policy of warrentless electronic surveillance. This debate will undoubtedly focus on the role of warrentless wiretapping in an effective counter-terrorism campaign; I feel that this is an unavoidable and unfortunate outcome as it will obscure the fundamental issues of presidential power, legislative authority, and the general rule of law. This is not to say that protecting the country from terrorism is somehow undeserving of our collective attention. Quite to the contrary, this issue should be, and should have been, debated openly among our political leaders, media outlets, and the general public.

    Quite certainly the Bush administration avoided an open debate of the issue of electronic surveillance. This decision is quite puzzling considering the generalized support for the surveillance policy (when the issue is framed properly in polling questions) and the administration’s history of “taking to the street” to rally support for policies that may find political support among most Americans. (As an example of this behavior consider the administration’s campaign to invigorate support for the renewal of the Patriot Act.) Although there may be countless explanations for this silence, including plausible arguments for maintaining the secrecy of the project (another issue in and of itself), I feel that the administration acted primarily out of entitlement and defiance. The “true believers” within the administration likely felt entitled to the power necessary to conduct such surveillance and saw the policy as being critical to successfully defending the country from terrorism. These beliefs are not particularly alarming considering the neo-conservative politics of the individuals , nor do they represent any egregious abuse of power on the part of the administration; however, they do underline and predicate a decision on the part of the administration to intentionally act in defiance of Congress.

    At some point in time, the “true believers” within the administration were informed of the reality that the policy that they wanted to implement was beyond the limits permitted by the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) and faced the decision of how to proceed. The administration knowingly and intentionally acted in defiance of FISA. It is this intentional decision to ignore the applicable federal law governing such surveillance, not the desire to conduct it, that is so terribly alarming. The outrage can only be intensified by the administration’s continual rhetoric highlighting the importance of the “people’s legislative voice” in shaping the policies of the federal government and the extreme deference given to Congress if and when congressional actions favor conservative policies. (For examples of this look to arguments against “activist judges,” or any debate related to same-sex marriage or abortion.) Instead of seeking to change the law to accomidate the type of serveliance that the administration deemed to be so necessary, the Bush administration flatly ignored it. Consider the administration’s outrage when certain public officers ignored the rule of law to marry to members of the same sex because they felt that it was the right thing to do. Regardless of party politics or convenience, our leaders can not pick and choose when it is appropriate to uphold the law, nor should we permit them to do so.

    Ultimately, the debate over whether warrentless electronic surveillance is, or is not effective; or whether or not it should be part of our counter-terrorism policy, is an important one. These issues must be addressed. However, it seems to me that such a debate should be overshadowed by a widespread demand, an insistence, that our leaders uphold the rule of law. I hope that as the “wiretapping” debate moves forward these fundamental issues are not overlooked. As a country we should commit ourselves to an informed debate of the administrations policies and actions, and remain mindful that “apple pie” issues like national security have a powerful ability to blur the importance of our core values even as our collective intention is to protect them.

  2. BankOfAmerica69 February 8, 2006 at 7:28 pm #

    I am 100% in favor of increased domestic surveillance, especially if it involves the hot 19 year old who lives in the apartment across the way from mine. You know, the lithe little blonde with the firm tits and unbelievable ass? The one who doesn’t close her blinds the entire way? Well, I’ve been doing some surveillance of my own, but I think it would be a good idea for the NSA to also get involved, as long as they make their findings public. So YES, I am in favor of covert surveillance of Americans such as Stacy, especially since, believe me, there is absolutely nothing innocent about her.

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