Domestic Spying Scandal Overshadows Patriot Act Debate

President Bush continues to push reauthorization of the worst parts of the Patriot Act, but as revelations about warrantless NSA spying continue to shock the nation, the ACLU and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are now calling for a full investigation into his authorization of these illegal activities. This week the ACLU ran the third advertisement in a series of messages sharply criticizing the president for violating the Constitution and lying to the public.

The fight to reform the Patriot Act won a crucial victory at the end of December, when a bipartisan group of Senators successfully filibustered the White House's Patriot Act reauthorization bill. Supporters of freedom sent a clear signal to President Bush that Americans believe that we can be both safe and free.

The Patriot Act in its existing form has been extended for one month, to allow time for the addition of vital reforms that protect the privacy and civil liberties of innocent Americans.

The failed bill faced staunch opposition for its proposals to make all of the expiring powers permanent. Although the final bill set a four-year expiration date on two of the act's most egregious provisions, it also contained changes that would have worsened the controversial National Security letter powers.

The ACLU and many others have been questioning the administration's assurances about the Patriot Act and government surveillance for a long time. In attempts to assuage the mounting concerns of Americans, they have lied about their actions. The president now must explain assertions made in a speech given in 2004, in which he called for Patriot Act renewal:

Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.

The White House has argued that President Bush was just talking about domestic surveillance, but the NSA's warrantless wiretap program unequivocally applies to communications from American citizens originating in the United States.

This week's ACLU ad also quotes President Bush discussing the Patriot Act on June 9, 2005, stating that law enforcement officers need a federal judge's permission to engage in electronic surveillance of a suspected terrorist. But, in light of the president's repeated NSA authorizations, our ad asks, "Why did we bother debating the Patriot Act if President Bush could make up his own rules about spying on U.S. citizens?"

The ACLU will be working tirelessly this month in Congress, working closely with lawmakers to ensure that the Patriot Act renewal includes real reform and protections for the privacy and freedoms of innocent Americans.

In advertisements and other grassroots outreach, the ACLU is calling for a special counsel to determine if oaths of office were broken or federal laws were violated. We have also requested records from the NSA and other agencies in our ongoing campaign to reveal and limit unchecked government spying on Americans.

President Bush's secret authorization of the NSA's warrantless spying on Americans violated the law and raises the specter of Nixon and Watergate.



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Januar 2006

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