After seven years of trampling on the Constitution with an illegal war, illegal wiretapping, and torture, one would think the last person the Democratic-controlled Congress would trust with our Bill of Rights would be President Bush. Or at least that’s what the Democrats promised in last year’s election. But as Congress acquiesced to Bush’s demands to expand his administration’s use of warrantless wiretaps, they might as well have handed him the Constitution and a black Sharpie.
The conveniently named Protect America Act, which revises the Foreign Intelligence Act of 1978, was supposed to bring the old law up to speed with the Internet age. Because e-mails are routed through foreign countries, conflicts have arisen about what constitutes a foreign communication, and the new law was supposed to fix this confusion.
But instead of drawing a clear line, the law basically gives the president free reign to make these decisions as it sees fit. By allowing the executive to forego warrants and intercept any communication where at least one party is “reasonably believed” to be from a foreign country, even petty e-mails between Americans and friends overseas are theoretically subject to government oversight.
Worse yet, the only people allowed to decide when the administration is going too far are within the administration itself. The bill doesn’t force the executive branch to go to the FISA courts for warrants. This means that a president with a history of lying to the American people, a vice president who lurks behind the scenes and an attorney general who can’t remember what he ate this morning are deciding if you should be tapped.
Aside from being a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment, this law is a striking example of the power of American fear. At the heart of this anxiety is Bush’s refrain that the terrorists are always plotting to cripple our way of life. Although the government refuses to tell us who it has spied on or even how much intelligence has come from previous spying, we are supposed to trust that the president needs more conversations, more e-mails and more authority to quell terrorism.
Ironically, the fight against terrorism has become a bigger threat to American freedoms than the terrorists themselves.
Sadly, the only ones able to stop this administration’s abuses are the Democrats in Congress, who laid down at the president’s first command. Although the bill is set to expire in six months, the 57 Democrats who voted for the hypocritical Protect America Act have already shown they’re just as spineless and immoral as the president they promised to oppose.
The Democrats didn’t just forget the Bill of Rights. They forgot their responsibility to check the president. Perhaps their next act should be to do their jobs.