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FISA was set up to address the exact problem we face today with the war on terror

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It's certainly cute of President Bush to claim that he had to break the law and spy on American citizens inside the US because the FISA search warrant procedures are, he claims, too out of date, too onerous, and too slow to deal with the kind of danger we face today.

It's also another lie.

As Bruce Schneier points out, the danger we face today (a terrifying enemy hiding in our midst) and the daunting task we face today (sifting through hundreds of thousands of electronic messages on a regular basis, messages that happen so fast that there isn't time to run to a court for a warrant) was faced by the nation decades ago. And in response to that danger and that task, our leaders created FISA because the eavesdropping had gone too far.

A lot of people are trying to say that it's a different world today, and that eavesdropping on a massive scale is not covered under the FISA statute, because it just wasn't possible or anticipated back then. That's a lie. Project Shamrock began in the 1950s, and ran for about twenty years. It too had a massive program to eavesdrop on all international telegram communications, including communications to and from American citizens. It too was to counter a terrorist threat inside the United States. It too was secret, and illegal. It is exactly, by name, the sort of program that the FISA process was supposed to get under control.

Twenty years ago, Senator Frank Church warned of the dangers of letting the NSA get involved in domestic intelligence gathering. He said that the "potential to violate the privacy of Americans is unmatched by any other intelligence agency." If the resources of the NSA were ever used domestically, "no American would have any privacy left.... There would be no place to hide.... We must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is an abyss from which there is no return."

Bush's eavesdropping program was explicitly anticipated in 1978, and made illegal by FISA. There might not have been fax machines, or e-mail, or the Internet, but the NSA did the exact same thing with telegrams.

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