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News of the Day ... In Perspective


Spying on Americans is acceptable, President says

Reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act was stalled after The New York Times broke news about a secret National Security Agency (NSA) program to monitor electronic transmissions originating in the United States. The law requires approval of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.

President Bush said that the activities he authorized helped to detect and prevent terrorist attacks. He said that congressional leaders had been informed of the secret orders more than a dozen times, and that they were subject to review and approval by the Attorney General and the chief White House counsel.

The President cited a resolution passed by Congress on Sept 14, 2001, authorizing him to use all necessary and appropriate force” against any entity or person that “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the Sept 11, 2001, attack.

The Constitutional authority derives from his role as commander in chief, Bush said (James Kuhnhenn, Knight Ridder Newspapers 12/18/05).

While the Times report called the surveillance “unprecedented,” CBS 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft said, in February 2000, that NSA computers captured virtually every electronic conversation around the world during the Clinton Administration in the 1990s. The program called Echelon screened conversations for key words that might indicate a terrorist threat. “Just about anything” was monitored, “from data transfers to cell phones to portable phones to baby monitors to ATMs” (NewsMax.com 12/18/05).

Columnist Joseph Sobran discussed the Constitutional issues: “How could this quaint document have relevance to our world today? A fair question. Without treating it as Holy Writ, we can recognize that it embodied a sound principle: the division of power. Like an even older and quainter document, the Magna Carta, its distant ancestor, it recognized the danger of concentrating arbitrary power in the hands of too few men, especially one man” (The Reactionary Utopian, Griffin Internet Syndicate, 12/20/05).

Additional information:

USA PATRIOT Act updates from a civil libertarian perspective: www.bordc.org

“The Panopticon,” AAPS News, September 2003.

“The Magna Carta,” Civil Defense Perspectives, November 1996.


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