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A Retreat on Wiretapping? (WaPo editorial)

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struggle4progress Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jan-21-07 12:55 AM
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A Retreat on Wiretapping? (WaPo editorial)
Congress needs to verify before trusting that adequate protections are in place.
Sunday, January 21, 2007; Page B06

WHEN THE Bush administration announced that it had belatedly put its warrantless wiretapping program under court supervision, its attitude was like that of a traffic officer trying to hurry along bystanders at an accident scene: "Move right along, folks, nothing to look at here." The administration would like Congress, under its new management, to abandon its efforts to dislodge details about the program's operations or to craft legislation to provide a legal framework. Lawmakers don't seem inclined to simply go away, nor should they.

It may be that the Justice Department has devised what Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales called a "creative" way to bring the surveillance program under the procedures of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), one that preserves the "speed and agility" that the administration wants while ensuring adequate judicial review, not simply broad-brush, "programmatic" approval for warrantless wiretapping. If so, that would be good news. It's what we have been saying should happen since the program was revealed more than a year ago -- even as the administration insisted that such a move was neither practically feasible nor legally required ...

The special court that oversees the FISA law has said that it is willing, with the administration's approval, to provide a copy of the order under which it is operating. But Mr. Gonzales was anything but reassuring last week when members of the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed for access to the relevant documents. "Are you saying that you might object to the court giving us decisions that you've publicly announced?" said Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) "Are we a little 'Alice in Wonderland' here?"

A little? Traveling down the rabbit hole with Mr. Gonzales is an endlessly frustrating journey, light on details, heavy on unsubstantiated assurances. "So could you give us some idea of the breadth of these warrants?" Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked the attorney general. "What I can tell you, Senator, is that they meet the legal requirements under FISA," Mr. Gonzales replied. Maybe that kind of conclusory non-answer would suffice when Republicans were in the majority. In fact, no senator of either party should stand for it.
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