18 December 2005. Thanks to R.
Subject: A small editorial about recent events.
From: "Perry E. Metzger" <perry[at]piermont.com>
Date: Sun, 18 Dec 2005 13:58:06 -0500
A small editorial from your moderator. I rarely use this list to express a strong political opinion -- you will forgive me in this instance.
This mailing list is putatively about cryptography and cryptography politics, though we do tend to stray quite a bit into security issues of all sorts, and sometimes into the activities of the agency with the biggest crypto and sigint budget in the world, the NSA.
As you may all be aware, the New York Times has reported, and the administration has admitted, that President of the United States apparently ordered the NSA to conduct surveillance operations against US citizens without prior permission of the secret court known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (the "FISC"). This is in clear contravention of 50 USC 1801 - 50 USC 1811, a portion of the US code that provides for clear criminal penalties for violations. See:
The President claims he has the prerogative to order such surveillance. The law unambiguously disagrees with him.
There are minor exceptions in the law, but they clearly do not apply in this case. They cover only the 15 days after a declaration of war by congress, a period of 72 hours prior to seeking court authorization (which was never sought), and similar exceptions that clearly are not germane.
There is no room for doubt or question about whether the President has the prerogative to order surveillance without asking the FISC -- even if the FISC is a toothless organization that never turns down requests, it is a federal crime, punishable by up to five years imprisonment, to conduct electronic surveillance against US citizens without court authorization.
The FISC may be worthless at defending civil liberties, but in its arrogant disregard for even the fig leaf of the FISC, the administration has actually crossed the line into a crystal clear felony. The government could have legally conducted such wiretaps at any time, but the President chose not to do it legally.
Ours is a government of laws, not of men. That means if the President disagrees with a law or feels that it is insufficient, he still must obey it. Ignoring the law is illegal, even for the President. The President may ask Congress to change the law, but meanwhile he must follow it.
Our President has chosen to declare himself above the law, a dangerous precedent that could do great harm to our country. However, without substantial effort on the part of you, and I mean you, every person reading this, nothing much is going to happen. The rule of law will continue to decay in our country. Future Presidents will claim even greater extralegal authority, and our nation will fall into despotism. I mean that sincerely. For the sake of yourself, your children and your children's children, you cannot allow this to stand.
Call your Senators and your Congressman. Demand a full investigation, both by Congress and by a special prosecutor, of the actions of the Administration and the NSA. Say that the rule of law is all that stands between us and barbarism. Say that we live in a democracy, not a kingdom, and that our elected officials are not above the law. The President is not a King. Even the President cannot participate in a felony and get away with it. Demand that even the President must obey the law.
Tell your friends to do the same. Tell them to tell their friends to do the same. Then, call back next week and the week after and the week after that until something happens. Mark it in your calendar so you don't forget about it. Politicians have short memories, and Congress is about to recess for Christmas, so you must not allow this to be forgotten. Keep at them until something happens.
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