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Thursday, February 9, 2006
Congress and the Wiretaps
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:47 am

Via WaPo: White House Agrees to Brief Congress on NSA Surveillance

Responding to congressional pressure from both parties, the White House agreed yesterday to give lawmakers more information about its domestic surveillance program, although the briefings remain highly classified and limited in scope.

Despite the administration’s overture, several prominent Republicans said they will pursue legislation enabling Congress to conduct more aggressive oversight of the National Security Agency’s warrantless monitoring of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails.

Good–on both counts.

In regards to the program:

The administration recently acknowledged that in 2001, it began eavesdropping on an undisclosed number of communications without alerting the FISA court or seeking warrants. Each targeted communication involves a person in the United States and one outside, Gonzales told the Senate panel this week, and at least one of the persons is suspected of a tie to terrorists.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that thousands of Americans appear to have been monitored, resulting in very few suspects that the NSA deemed worthy of further pursuit. Gonzales and Hayden have declined to confirm or dispute the article’s chief findings.

There is something wrong with thousands of American being monitored by their government without a warrant, while in the US no less.

Further, if the program has netted only a handful of persons worthy of further surveillance, then it begs the question as to the drama surrounding the dire need by the administration for the program as currently constituted. It especially calls into question all the assurances from General Hayden and others that the professionals in the NSA only monitor persons for whom there is a high probability of connection to terrorist activities.


  1. When you cross the border, is a warrant required for searching you for any reason?

    Comment by ATM — Thursday, February 9, 2006 @ 10:14 am

  2. When you cross a border there it is known that one is going to be searched. That is rather different than having one’s phone tapped.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, February 9, 2006 @ 10:23 am

  3. But one doesn’t have any guarantees that your conversation won’t be tapped by another country. I don’t believe there is any reason to expect privacy for transmissions going beyond the border.

    Comment by ATM — Thursday, February 9, 2006 @ 12:02 pm

  4. The issue here is not, and never has been, the tapping of foreign communications. The problem, quite clearly, is the tapping of the phone of US CITIZENS in their homes in the US without a warrant.

    This is problematic and violates the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, February 9, 2006 @ 1:11 pm

  5. But any call that any of us makes, in or out of the US, could be tapped without our knowledge and without a warrant being obtained against us. If there is a warrant authorizing that the phone calls of the other end be tapped, then our calls to that number will be covered along with all the others.

    So this is nothing new. You’ve always known that your calls could be monitored when you talked to someone with, say, mob connections in the US. Now you know that calling someone with Al Qaeda connections overseas may yield similar results.

    Comment by Ann — Thursday, February 9, 2006 @ 1:25 pm

  6. Except for the government to tap the phone of a mobster, a warrant has to be issued by a court and there has to be probably cause to get the warrant.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, February 9, 2006 @ 1:28 pm

  7. Sure but, we are talking about domestic surveillance in that case, typically for the purpose of gathering evidence for prosecution. Has any warrantless wiretap information been used for prosecution yet, or merely interdiction?

    Comment by ATM — Thursday, February 9, 2006 @ 5:29 pm

  8. Yes, the government needs to get a warrant to tap the phone of a suspected mobster in the US. Are you saying that it also needs a warrant to tap the line of a suspected terrorist in another country? I thought that you were upset by the fact that US citizens, ‘in their homes in the US’, might have their calls overheard without a warrant. As I pointed out, that could always happen, but only when calling or being called by a target. It’s not new.

    Comment by Ann — Friday, February 10, 2006 @ 10:20 am

  9. Perhaps we’ve both been careless in our use of the term “tapping”. You said that “The problem, quite clearly, is the tapping of the phone of US CITIZENS in their homes in the US without a warrant.” But the lines of US citizens are not being tapped without a warrant. The lines of foreign targets are being tapped, which naturally means that calls in or out of those numbers get covered, including calls from/to the US. But, to target someone in the US, a warrant is still needed. The administration does not dispute that.

    Comment by Ann — Friday, February 10, 2006 @ 10:24 am

  10. Well, in fact, it does dispute that notion.

    It believes that certain circumstances allow for the monitoring of US phones so long as part of that conversation is with a foreign source. The NSA program is not just, tapped Osama’s phone and whomever he talks to, he talks to.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Friday, February 10, 2006 @ 10:54 am

  11. What do you mean by “part of that conversation”? Do you mean the other end? The President and others have said specifically that the other end must be a number linked to terrorism, not just any foreign call.

    Discussions of this are complicated by the fact that none of us know exactly what they’re doing. But they have said that it doesn’t simply cover any foreign call, and that one end of the call must be a suspected terrorist (or affiliated) phone number.

    If there’s evidence to the contrary, please let me know.

    Comment by Ann — Friday, February 10, 2006 @ 12:46 pm

  12. Clearly part of the problem is the lack of definitive information.

    That having been said–it isn’t that I disagree with the actual process. I simple disagree, quite stringently, that the president cannot simply assert the power–there needs to be adequate oversight. Once that is in place, I have no problem with the concept.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Friday, February 10, 2006 @ 3:51 pm

  13. Dr. Taylor,

    I just checked United Nations’ web site, According to UN statistics (2005), Colombia’s population is about 45.6 million. And according to CIA World Factbook, Ethnic grroups are: mestizo 58%, white 20%, mulatto 14%, black 4%, mixed black-Amerindian 3%, Amerindian 1%…it was stuck in my mind since last comparative class.

    Comment by Serhat SENEL — Saturday, February 11, 2006 @ 11:11 pm

  14. Thanks

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Sunday, February 12, 2006 @ 7:46 am

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