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January 26, 2006

Warrantless Wiretapping is a Big Deal

Chris Patterson

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states that the right of the people to be secure requires probable cause for warrants to be issued when the government wants to search or otherwise invade your privacy. But President George W. Bush, waiving reminders of September 11, 2001, thinks he does not have to abide by the Bill of Rights.

On September 11, 2001, many of us in the City of Frederick were standing outside city schools that were being used as polling places for the city's primary election.

We were waiving banners for our favorite candidates when someone heard on the radio about the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City. The news spread like wildfire; and most of us were sickened with grief. Many wept. It was a day no one will ever forget.

Osama bin Laden was identified as the primary offender, the leader of those terrorists who flew airplanes into the towers and into the Pentagon; passengers to crash another terrorist-controlled plane into a field in Pennsylvania to prevent further horror in Washington. We were not surprised that bin Laden was their leader.

More than four years later we still do not have bin Laden under arrest. Despite the lives of thousands of men and women given to secure another country's freedom, our attacker remains free. And, yes, that is a condemnation of the current administration's gross failure to find him - in case the previous statement was too subtle.

The president believes that he has the ultimate right to do anything he wants to search for terrorists such as bin Laden. He and his NSA minions can listen to your conversations with family, your employer, your fiancÚ, or whomever he wishes because he is the president.

The president has "inherent authority under the war powers act," according to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. says the word inherent means "implicit" and "not readily apparent." So the president has implied - but not readily apparent - powers to eavesdrop.

And he doesn't need a warrant either, despite the Fourth Amendment or the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act mandating a warrant be acquired within 72 hours of instituting a wiretapping.

That 72-hour requirement seems reasonable to me. Within three days of issuing a wiretap someone has to schlep to the court and get a warrant. What 's the big deal?

It's apparently a big deal to the prez..

Look, I thank the people conducting searches at the airports and amusement parks. My granddaughter does as well. We didn't tell her to do it. She said she does it because they are helping to keep us safe. She is right. But we know when we go there that they will do that. We travel the airways or visit amusement parks on those terms.

On the surface, allowing the government to listen into your calls without a warrant may seem benign. What do you have to protect, anyway? If you are not doing anything wrong, what's the big deal?

The big deal is that this is not just about some government agent eating a bologna sandwich while listening to your conversation with Aunt Hermione in London. He probably doesn't care about how your Uncle Freddy is doing after his gall bladder surgery.

The big deal is that this is about the federal government having too much power to spy on you and your business. Once we accept this intrusion, they will next set up cameras inside your house. Sound farfetched? Maybe.

But maybe, instead, they will interrogate and strip-search your daughter at school without you being present because some girl who doesn't like her told them your little girl had drugs and a pocket knife.

Maybe they can arrest your wife because she was standing in line at Wal-Mart next to a person of Arabic descent. His name was Mohammed Ali Something or Other and she was overheard to give him directions to the courthouse. They rush her away to someplace they will not tell you and hide her away to interrogate her for days. You think that's crazy?

They wouldn't do that to your little girl, would they? They couldn't get away with taking your wife away for days without telling you where she is or getting her an attorney.

Think that's crazy? Think again.

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