Bush wants permanent warrantless wiretap law
In a testimony before Congress on Thursday, J. Michael McConnell, director of national intelligence, said public discussion of wiretapping policies costs American lives.
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Responding to McConnell's anecdote about the 12-hour delay, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D- Texas) said that it is "unclear if the new law would help," reports the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire. McConnell alleges that recent changes in telecommunications make it necessary to obtain more warrants than in the past.Skip to next paragraph
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"It gets back to the bureaucracy and the failure to recognize that American lives are at stake," he said. "I don't want to leave the perception that people were standing around because of the FISA."
A warrant had to be obtained to listen to Iraqi communications because they were being routed through communication systems in the United States, making the Fourth Amendment applicable, McConnell said.
In a press release, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) contended that many of the reasons being used to justify the need for the warrantless wiretapping law are mere myths. The ACLU attacked two key justifications, among others, for warrantless wiretapping: that American will not be affected by the law and that FISA needed to be expanded because of new technologies. The ACLU also challenged McConnell's contention that without the law, bureaucracy made the wiretapping process ineffectually slow.
Myth: McConnell said that it takes 200 "man" hours to get a court order to access a telephone number.
Reality: The math, courtesy of Wired.com. "In 2006, the government filed 2,181 such applications with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court. The court approved 2,176 2006 FISA Warrant Applications. That means government employees spent 436,200 hours writing out foreign intelligence wiretaps in 2006. That's 53,275 workdays." The numbers have been greatly exaggerated. Also, in a June 2007 article in the Washington Post, Royce C. Lamberth, the presiding judge of FISC on 9-11 said he approved FISA warrants in minutes with only an oral briefing.
Even if it is merely a resource issue, there were and are bipartisan bills that would streamline the application process and grant more resources.
Besides, there is no "too-much-paperwork" exception to the Fourth Amendment.
Under the new law, private telecommunications firms that worked with the government to enable wiretapping and other surveillance methods are freed from any legal liability, reports CNET. Bush hopes to make this law a retroactive policy.
"It's particularly important for Congress to provide meaningful liability protection to those companies now facing multibillion-dollar lawsuits only because they are believed to have assisted in efforts to defend our nation, following the 9/11 attacks," Bush said.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has sued AT&T over its allegedly illegal cooperation with the government, says references to the crippling liability posed by such suits suggest that the scope of the wiretapping is "massive."
"The statutory penalties for warrantless wiretapping are relatively small per person--even if AT&T was ordered to pay the maximum penalty, a few hundred illegal wiretaps would amount to less than a rounding error in the phone company's quarterly statements," EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl wrote in a recent blog entry. "If the NSA was truly limiting its spying to suspected terrorists, the potential liability would be like an annoying gnat on an elephant. So why are the companies so worried?"