Warrantless Wiretaps are Illegal Again

The "Protect America Act" has expired.

This was a law passed in haste last year, as an addendum to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It authorized the previously illegal (and I would hope unconstitutional) act of spying on Americans without a warrant or court order.

Now that PAA has expired, no further warrantless wiretaps can be initiated. Existing surveillance continues, and new surveillance can be initiated with the rubber stamp of a FISA court. As the conservative Washington Times explains there will be little practical effect from the lapse.

The administration is claiming this is a severe blow to our intelligence gathering capability. Their actions, however, prove otherwise. If PAA was so necessary, the administration would have supported reauthorization without the poison pill of phone company amnesty.

Instead, the administration engaged in a game of chicken, cynically wielding the "national security" threat to get special deals for the phone companies. They lost, and took PAA down with them.

I hope that now PAA is gone we can start with a clean slate. If the intelligence community needs capabilities beyond FISA then Congress should act—but in a way that provides some form of legal oversight. I don't believe we need to write a blank check on our civil liberties to buy the security and intelligence this country needs.

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Let's distinguish between

Let's distinguish between "Warrantless Wiretaps are Illegal Again" and "no further warrantless wiretaps can be initiated." Just because something is illegal doesn't mean it can't happen. Especially when it comes to illegal wiretaps. Especially given those illegal wiretaps were apparently going on before 9/11, and obviously did nothing to prevent it.