Thursday, January 04, 2007

Well, Who Could Have Foreseen This?

President Bush quietly has claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant.
Another day, another signing statement that brazenly contradicts the law it's appended to. Do I remember correctly that some commentary on last year's warrantless wiretapping brouhaha raised the spectre of government agents combing citizens' private mail? And that those concerns were huffily brushed aside?

Hmm. I am not finding direct links other than my memory, but there's this from my February 7, 2006 post on the NSA hearings:
Perhaps the most troubling spectre to float out of yesterday's hearing was that of other surveillance programs we don't know about yet. The Attorney General framed many of his responses as pertaining only to "the program we are discussing today." The most telling moment came when Kennedy asked directly whether other, more insidious domestic spying programs were either in the works or already operational. Gonzales hesitated, silent, for a good two or three seconds, sighed deeply, and stammered, as if his tongue had suddenly swollen to the size of a canned ham, that he could not answer that question.

The Fourth Amendment is pretty clear on the issue of people being "secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures..." In fact, the security of our persons, houses, papers, and effects leads off the first clause of the Fourth Amendment, which apparently was the only relevant segment in the mind of NSA chief (then deputy director) Hayden last January when he tried to explain why warrantless surveillance is legal after all. You remember from your high school civic class, of course, that the second big ol' clause of the amendment states that "no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause..."
QUESTION: Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder. I'd like to stay on the same issue, and that had to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I'm no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use --

GEN. HAYDEN: No, actually -- the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure. That's what it says.

QUESTION: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

GEN. HAYDEN: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

QUESTION: But does it not say probable --

GEN. HAYDEN: No. The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.. . .

If the operating standard is "reasonable," and the unitary executive gets to decide what "reasonable" means, the Constitution becomes even less than the window dressing it was reduced to last winter. It becomes the thin haze of adhesive left by the masking tape slapped up there when the casing was repainted, waiting to be scraped away with the swipe of a razor blade.

Party down today, Mmes and Mssrs Pelosi, Reid, and Emanuel. Tomorrow is time to get your asses to work.

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