Privacy advocates fight for ground lost after 9/11
Five years after surrendering privacy for security, many challenge the scope of US government domestic surveillance.
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What's happened: Shortly after 9/11, President Bush signed an executive order that allowed the National Security Agency (NSA), without getting a warrant, to wiretap the overseas communications of people suspected of having contact with Al Qaeda, even if the call ended in the United States. When the story broke in 2005, critics said it was a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Passed in 1978, this act established a special court, known as the FISA court, where intelligence agencies could seek approval for wiretaps in national-security investigations. Mr. Bush says that legislation passed after 9/11 gave him authority to supersede the FISA court.Skip to next paragraph
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Last year, as result of a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union, a federal district court ruled that the program was unconstitutional. The ruling has been stayed while the government appeals. Although Bush maintains he has the right to order such warrantless wiretapping, the administration announced in January that it was voluntarily putting the program under the FISA court's jurisdiction.
Who's affected: Thousands of people could be involved, but estimates are hard to make because the program is secret.
For it: The administration says the program gives it the speed and flexibility it needs – not only to track suspected terrorists, but also to help establish behavior patterns that could be used in detecting terrorism.
"In this world where bad guys can cross borders in a fraction of a second ... governments need to blow through every barrier to be able to track bad activity really fast," says Jonathan Winer, a terrorism expert who was deputy assistant secretary of State for international law enforcement under President Clinton. "But they also need to do so with rules and oversight and controls."
Against it: In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that surveillance of communication constituted a "search" as defined by the Fourth Amendment, thus requiring court review.
"The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was passed by Congress in an effort to constrain just the kind of surveillance the president says he's been doing," says Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington Legislative Office of the ACLU.
Where it stands: The Bush administration has asked the appeals court to throw out the ACLU case, saying the issue is moot since the program is now under FISA review. The ACLU says the suit is still relevant because the president maintains he has the right to conduct warrantless surveillance. A ruling is expected in the next few weeks. Congress is considering three bills that would reform the FISA system.
3) SURVEILLANCE OF POLITICAL ACTIVISTS
What's happened: Some 1,800 protesters were arrested in New York during the 2004 Republican National Convention (RNC). Some have filed a suit against the city and the New York Police Department (NYPD), claiming wrongful arrest and violation of their First Amendment free-speech rights.
Two weeks ago, a federal judge said their case is "of great public significance" because it concerns "the proper relationship" between protesters' rights and police efforts to maintain public order.
As a result of the suit, it became public this month that in the year before the convention, the NYPD sent undercover officers around the US, Canada, and Europe to learn how many protesters were coming and whether any planned violent acts. The officers went to political meetings, befriended activists, and scoured the Web for information about protesters' plans.
At the same time, the FBI also worked with local and state Joint Terrorism Task Forces to investigate protesters to learn if any planned violent acts at either political convention.
Who's affected: The NYPD collected hundreds of files on potential protesters.
The FBI identified 74 individuals, contacting 60 for interviews. The ACLU is seeking more information about FBI activity, on behalf of 150 groups who think they've been spied on.
For it: Police and the FBI say surveillance is crucial to investigating threats and potential criminal behavior. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly defended the NYPD's actions. The commissioner noted that the officers' work helped prevent disruptive violent protests like those at World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle, Genoa, and Montreal. "Eight hundred thousand people here protested ... peacefully," the commissioner said last week.