Justice Department declares terrorist surveillance legal

Erik Ebsen

Erik Ebsen

Conversations between doctors and patients, and between attorneys and clients, usually confidential, may be legally monitored under President Bush’s surveillance program, the Justice Department revealed last Friday.

The department stated it would have no qualms against using such information in court.

Congress inquired to the department about the program, as both Democrats and Republicans have questioned it. Many debate whether such actions are even legal. They appear to violate a 1978 surveillance law.

The debate stems from a part of Bush’s terrorist surveillance program. In it, the National Security Agency is given the right to monitor the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. residents without any court order or warrant. Surveillance only requires one party be outside the United States and one believed to have ties to Al Qaeda.

Bush secretly authorized the program in October 2001. The New York Times discovered it and published the news last December, after over four years of unknown surveillance.

When asked about eavesdropping on U.S. residents during a recent press conference, Bush answered, “Nobody from the Democratic Party has actually stood up and called for getting rid of the of the terrorist surveillance program.”

An Associated Press article stated that Bush claims his power to authorize surveillance on Americans derives from “his authority as commander in chief as well as a September 2001 congressional authorization to use force in the fight against terrorism.”

While Bush characteristically defends his choice, his allies may be thinning. Americans rated Bush’s job approval at 37 percent, among his lowest scores yet, according to a recent AP poll.

Many politicians in Washington, D.C., are taking an opposing stance as well. Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans question Bush’s authorization on wiretapping. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., even called for a censure of the president in response to his spying program.

During a press conference with the Associated Press, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said “I think what is going on now without congressional intervention or judiciary convention is just plain wrong.”

Tom Daschle disagrees with the President’s move. He said the President “infers that he is about the law and can wiretap and eavesdrop on average citizens,” during an Aberdeen dinner celebrating the former senator’s 26 years in Congress.

Feingold’s move to censure has recently been debated nearly as much as Bush’s surveillance. The president himself accused Feingold of “needless partisanship.” Republicans could rally against the move and gain party momentum. Wary of this, many Democrats have shied away from censure.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., are co-sponsoring the bill.

Newsweek found that 42 percent of Americans support censuring the president while 50 percent oppose. Sixty percent of Democrats support the censure. The poll was taken March 16-17.