As Bush Spy Plan Weakens, Answers Are Still Needed

By now you’ve no doubt heard the news that the Bush administration has conceded that the judicial branch has a role in overseeing surveillance by the NSA.

Last week’s extraordinary reversal by the administration, which we greet with skepticism — came just two weeks before our ACLU v. NSA hearing in a federal court of appeals and one day before the Attorney General was to testify before Congress.

This shift is a sure sign that the determination of the ACLU and supporters like you is starting to pay off but many questions remain before we can take this move as a real change in policy. And the last thing we should do is let an ambiguous concession exempt the Bush administration from the intense Congressional scrutiny that our democracy demands.

"The Justice Department announcement is a quintessential flip-flop," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. "The NSA was operating illegally and this eleventh-hour ploy is clearly an effort to avoid judicial and Congressional scrutiny. Despite this back flip, the constitutional problems with the president's actions remain unaddressed."

On Jan. 31, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is scheduled to hear the government’s appeal from a ruling in ACLU v. NSA declaring the NSA warrantless wiretapping program unconstitutional. The court should still rule on the case since the Justice Department stated that the president still retains the inherent authority to engage in wiretapping without the oversight of the FISA court. Without more information about what the secret FISA court has authorized, there is no way to determine whether the NSA’s current activities are lawful.

"The legality of this unprecedented surveillance program should not be decided by a secret court in one-sided proceedings," said Ann Beeson, lead counsel in ACLU v. NSA and Associate Legal Director of the ACLU. "And without a court order that prohibits warrantless wiretapping, Americans can’t be sure that their private calls and e-mails are safe from unchecked government intrusion."

To read more about the ACLU’s concerns with the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, go to //www.aclu.org/nsaspying

The Justice Department’s letter to Congress on the NSA warrantless wiretapping program is up at: //www.aclu.org/safefree/general/28043leg20070117.html



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