Monday, August 06, 2007

Warrantless Wiretapping Approved

From the NY Post:

President Bush signed into law on Sunday legislation that broadly expanded the government’s authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants.

...the new law for the first time provides a legal framework for much of the surveillance without warrants that was being conducted in secret by the National Security Agency and outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that is supposed to regulate the way the government can listen to the private communications of American citizens.

“This more or less legalizes the N.S.A. program,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, who has studied the new legislation.

Previously, the government needed search warrants approved by a special intelligence court to eavesdrop on telephone conversations, e-mail messages and other electronic communications between individuals inside the United States and people overseas, if the government conducted the surveillance inside the United States.

Today, most international telephone conversations to and from the United States are conducted over fiber-optic cables, and the most efficient way for the government to eavesdrop on them is to latch on to giant telecommunications switches located in the United States.

By changing the legal definition of what is considered “electronic surveillance,” the new law allows the government to eavesdrop on those conversations without warrants — latching on to those giant switches — as long as the target of the government’s surveillance is “reasonably believed” to be overseas.

For example, if a person in Indianapolis calls someone in London, the National Security Agency can eavesdrop on that conversation without a warrant, as long as the N.S.A.’s target is the person in London. full article

Critics fear that the new law is too broadly worded, an end to privacy, or is likely to be abused. I'd argue that privacy is frequently not guaranteed when communicating with citizens of other countries. Additionally in an age when terrorists are frequently ahead of the curve in using the internet to their advantage there are scenarios when time could be of the utmost import. However I in no way, shape, or form trust any administration permanently with the powers this law grants. But as long as this law requires approval every six months and the law is continually refined in the process I'll concede that it may be a necessary tool in order to prevent terrorist acts on U.S. soil. But once it ceases to serve that purpose or is used for another end I'll be among the first to advocate scrapping it.