AOH :: PT-1276.HTM|
ACLU launches NSAwatch.org website to track spying on Americans
ACLU launches NSAwatch.org website to track spying on Americans
ACLU launches NSAwatch.org website to track spying on Americans
A roundup of the news from just before Christmas:
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: NSA Spying on Americans
Date: Thu, 29 Dec 2005 15:59:29 -0500
From: Barry Steinhardt
To: Declan McCullagh
As has been made plain on Politech,the significance of the Bush/NSA spying
scandal continues to grow each day.
The ACLU has just posted a number of materials on our web site aclu.org and
the new nsawatch.org that we hope will add to the debate.
Those items include:
1. A new ACLU ad calling for a special counsel to investigate the
President's illegal surveillance of U.S. Citizens.The add appeared in
today's NY Times, as well as the web site along with related materials at
The text of the ad compares the words of President Nixon and President Bush,
both of whom denied allegations of illegal spying. Next to the image of
Nixon, the advertisement says: "He lied to the American people and broke the
law." Below that is an image of President Bush, with the words, "So did he.
2. The Updated NSA Watch site (formerly known as Echelon watch):
http://www.nsawatch.org/ which contains a wide variety of materials and
links documenting the NSA's extraordinary communication interception
capabilities ("sigint"), which are part of an international arrangement
sometimes referred to as "Echelon".
3 A new piece explaining how the "NSA Spying on Americans is Illegal" at
Since the Administration has sought to cast its unprecedented and lawless
spying on American's as "legal", I have included the text of our piece
below. You are, of course, free to use as much or little of it and the rest
of this message as you would like.
Have a good New Year,
ACLU Technology and Liberty Project
NSA Spying on Americans is Illegal
What if it emerged that the President of the United States was flagrantly
violating the Constitution and a law passed by the Congress to protect
Americans against abuses by a super-secret spy agency? What if, instead of
apologizing, he said, in essence, =B3I have the power to do that, because I
say I can.=B2 That frightening scenario is exactly what we are now witnessing
in the case of the warrantless NSA spying ordered by President Bush that was
reported December 16, 2005 by the New York Times.
According to the Times, Bush signed a presidential order in 2002 allowing
the National Security Agency to monitor without a warrant the international
(and sometimes domestic) telephone calls and e-mail messages of hundreds or
thousands of citizens and legal residents inside the United States. The
program eventually came to include some purely internal controls =AD but no
requirement that warrants be obtained from the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court as the 4th Amendment to the Constitution and the foreign
intelligence surveillance laws require.
In other words, no independent review or judicial oversight.
That kind of surveillance is illegal. Period.
The day after this shocking abuse of power became public, President Bush
admitted that he had authorized it, but argued that he had the authority to
do so. But the law governing government eavesdropping on American citizens
is well-established and crystal clear. President Bush=B9s claim that he is
not bound by that law is simply astounding. It is a Presidential power grab
that poses a challenge in the deepest sense to the integrity of the American
system of government =AD the separation of powers between the legislative and
executive branches, the concept of checks and balances on executive power,
the notion that the president is subject to the law like everyone else, and
the general respect for the =B3rule of law=B2 on which our democratic system
Flouting a long history
The tensions between the need for intelligence agencies to protect the
nation and the danger that they would become a domestic spy agency have been
explicitly and repeatedly fought out in American history. The National
Security Act of 1947 contained a specific ban on intelligence operatives
from operating domestically. In the 1970s, America learned about the
extensive domestic political spying carried out by the FBI, the military,
the CIA, and the NSA, and Congress passed new laws to prevent a repeat of
those abuses. Surveillance laws were debated and modified under presidents
Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton.
But, President Bush would sweep aside this entire body of democratically
debated and painstakingly crafted restrictions on domestic surveillance by
the executive branch with his extraordinary assertion that he can simply
ignore this law because he is the Commander-in-Chief. In a December 17
radio address, for example, Bush asserted that the spying was =B3fully
consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities.=B2 But
his constitutional duty is to =B3take care that the laws be faithfully
executed=B2 (Article II, Section 3); the law here clearly establishes
well-defined procedures for eavesdropping on U.S. persons, and the fact is,
Bush ordered that those procedures not be followed.
Government eavesdropping on Americans is an extremely serious matter; the
ability to intrude on the private realm is a tremendous power that can be
used to monitor, embarrass, control, disgrace, or ruin an individual.
Because it is so invasive, the technology of wiretapping has been subject to
carefully crafted statutory controls almost since it was invented. Ignoring
those controls and wiretapping without a court order is a crime that carries
a significant prison sentence (in fact, criminal violations of the wiretap
statute were among the articles of impeachment that were drafted against
President Nixon shortly before his resignation).
Unfortunately, although the law in this matter is crystal clear, many
Americans, faced with President Bush=B9s bold assertions of =B3inherent=B2
authority for these actions, will not know what to believe. There are only
5 points they need to understand:
Point #1: Electronic surveillance by the Government is strictly limited by
the Constitution and Federal Law
The law on surveillance begins with the Fourth Amendment to the
Constitution, which states clearly that Americans=B9 privacy may not be
invaded without a warrant based on probable cause.
United States Constitution
Fourth Amendment The right of the people to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,
shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause,
supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to
be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. (emphasis added)
The US Supreme Court (US v. Katz 389 US 347) has made it clear that this
core privacy protection does cover government eavesdropping. As a result,
all electronic surveillance by the government in the United States is
illegal, unless it falls under one of a small number of precise exceptions
specifically carved out in the law.
United States Code Title 50, Chapter 36, Subchapter 1
Section 1809. Criminal sanctions
(a) Prohibited activities A person is guilty of an offense if he
intentionally=8B (1) engages in electronic surveillance under color of law
except as authorized by statute
In other words, the NSA can only spy where it is explicitly granted
permission to do so by statute. Citizens concerned about surveillance do
not have to answer the question, =B3what law restricts the NSA=B9s spying?=B2
Rather, the government is required to supply an answer to the question =B3what
law permits the NSA to spy?=B2
Point #2: There are only three laws that permit the government to spy
There are only three laws that authorize any exceptions to the ban on
electronic eavesdropping by the government. Congress has explicitly stated
that these three laws are the exclusive means by which domestic electronic
surveillance can be carried out (18 USC, Section 2511(2)(f)). They are:
=B7 Title III and ECPA. Title III and the Electronic Communications
Privacy Act make up the statutes that govern criminal wiretaps in the United
=B7 FISA. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is the law that
governs eavesdropping on agents of =B3foreign powers=B2 within the United
States, including suspected foreign terrorists.
Point #3: The Bush-NSA spying was not authorized by any of these laws
Title III and ECPA govern domestic criminal wiretaps and are not relevant to
the NSA=B9s spying. FISA is the law under which the NSA should have operated.
It authorizes the government to conduct surveillance in certain situations
without meeting all of the requirements of the Fourth Amendment that apply
under criminal law, but requires that an independent Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court oversee that surveillance to make sure that Americans who
have no ties to foreign terrorist organizations or other =B3foreign powers=B2
are not spied upon.
FISA was significantly loosened by the Patriot Act (which, for example,
allowed it to be used for some criminal investigations), and parts of it now
stand in clear violation of the Constitution=B9s Fourth Amendment in the view
of the ACLU and many others. However, even the post-Patriot Act version of
FISA does not authorize the president to conduct warrantless eavesdropping
on U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents in the U.S. without an order
from the FISA Court. Yet it is that very court order requirement =AD imposed
to protect innocent Americans =AD that the President has ignored.
In fact, one member of the FISA Court, Judge James Roberston, has apparently
resigned from the court in protest of President Bush's secret authorization
of this program. And the New York Times reported that the court=B9s chief
judge complained about the program when she was (belatedly) notified of it,
and refused to allow information gathered under the program to be used as
the basis for FISA wiretap orders.
Point #4: Congress=B9s post-9/11 use-of-force resolution does not legitimize
the Bush-NSA spying
Congress after 9/11 approved an Authorization to Use Military Force against
those responsible for the attacks in order to authorize the president to
conduct foreign military operations such as the invasion of Afghanistan.
But that resolution contains no language changing, overriding or repealing
any laws passed by Congress. Congress does not repeal legislation through
hints and innuendos, and the Authorization to Use Military Force does not
authorize the president to violate the law against surveillance without a
warrant any more than it authorizes him to carry out an armed robbery or
seize control of Citibank in order to pay for operations against terrorists.
In fact, when President Truman tried to seize control of steel mills that
were gripped by strikes in 1952, the Supreme Court decisively rejected his
authority to make such a seizure, even in the face of arguments that the
strike would interfere with the supply of weapons and ammunition to American
troops then under fire on the battlefields of the Korean War. The Supreme
Court also rejected similar assertions of inherent executive power by
U.S. Supreme Court
YOUNGSTOWN CO. v. SAWYER, 343 U.S. 579 (1952)
=B3The order cannot properly be sustained as an exercise of the President=B9s
military power as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. . . . =B3Nor can
the seizure order be sustained because of the several constitutional
provisions that grant executive power to the President. . . . The
Constitution limits his functions in the lawmaking process to the
recommending of laws he thinks wise and the vetoing of laws he thinks bad.
And the Constitution is neither silent nor equivocal about who shall make
laws which the President is to execute. . . . =B3The Founders of this Nation
entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in both good and bad
In fact, FISA contains explicit language describing the president=B9s powers
=B3during time of war=B2 and provides that =B3the President, through the Attorney
General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under
this title to acquire foreign intelligence information for a period not to
exceed fifteen days following a declaration of war by the Congress." 50
U.S.C. =A7 1811 (emphasis added). So even if we accept the argument that the
use-of-force resolution places us on a war footing, warrantless surveillance
would have been legal for only 15 days after the resolution was passed on
September 18, 2001.
Point #5: The need for quick action does not justify an end-run around the
The FISA law takes account of the need for emergency surveillance, and the
need for quick action cannot be used as a rationale for going outside the
law. FISA allows wiretapping without a court order in an emergency; the
court must simply be notified within 72 hours. The government is aware of
this emergency power and has used it repeatedly. In addition, the Foreign
Intelligence court is physically located in the Justice Department building,
and the FISA law requires that at least two of the FISA judges reside in the
Washington, DC area, for precisely the reason that rapid action is sometimes
If President Bush still for some reason finds these provisions to be
inadequate, he must take his case to Congress and ask for the law to be
changed, not simply ignore it.
The president is bound by the rule of law
President Bush=B9s claim that he has =B3inherent authority=B2 as
Commander-in-Chief to use our spy agencies to eavesdrop on Americans is
astonishing, and such spying is clearly illegal. It must be halted
immediately, and its origins must be thoroughly investigated by Congress and
by a special counsel. (See letter from the ACLU to Attorney General
Gonzales calling for a special counsel
Given the extensive (indeed, excessive) surveillance powers that the
government already possesses, the Administration=B9s blatantly illegal use of
warrantless surveillance raises an important question: why? One
possibility, raised by the New York Times in a Dec. 24, 2005 story (=B3Spy
Agency Minded Vast Data Trove, Officials Report
=B2), is that the NSA
is relying on assistance from several unnamed telecommunications companies
to =B3trace and analyze large volumes of communications=B2 and is =B3much larger
than the White House has acknowledged.=B2
This, as security expert Bruce Schneier has noted, suggests the Bush
Administration has developed a =B3a whole new surveillance paradigm=B2 =AD
exploiting the NSA=B9s well known capabilities to spy on individuals not one
at a time, as FISA permits, but to run communications en masse through
computers in the search for suspicious individuals or patterns. This =B3new
paradigm=B2 may well be connected to the NSA program sometimes known as
=B3Echelon,=B2 which carries out just that kind of mass collection of
communications (see www.nsawatch.org ). This
=B3wholesale=B2 surveillance, as Schneier calls it, would constitute an illegal
invasion of Americans=B9 privacy on a scale that has never before been seen.
(See Schneier, =B3NSA and Bush=B9s Illegal Eavesdropping
According to the Times, several telecommunications companies provided the
NSA with direct access to streams of communications over their networks. In
other words, the NSA appears to have direct access to a large volume of
Americans=B9 communications =AD with not simply the assent, but the cooperation
of the companies handling those communications.
We do not know from the report which companies are involved or precisely how
or what the NSA can access. But this revelation raises questions about
both the legal authority of the NSA to request and receive this data, and
whether these companies may have violated either the Federal laws protecting
these communications or their own stated privacy polices (which may, for
example, provide that they will only turn over their customers=B9 data with
their consent or in response to a proper order).
Regardless of the scale of this spying, we are facing a historic moment: the
President of the United states has claimed a sweeping wartime power to brush
aside the clear limits on his power set by our Constitution and laws =AD a
chilling assertion of presidential power that has not been seen since
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