While most see these and other similar reforms as necessary, serving merely as a legal upgrade for law enforcement, one provision of the act's section regarding wireless communication has created much controversy. This section allows foreign intelligence agencies to wiretap citizen's phones and computers without a court order. Bringing the country back to the short-lived standard of 1928, when a fraction of the technology that is used on a regular basis today was even invented, this portion of the act leaves room for the undocumented surveillance of United States citizens (Podesta). Similarly, President George W. Bush announced that in the days and months following the September 11th terrorist attacks he ordered the wiretapping of several United States residents without approval from congress, admitting and defending his expansion of the role of executive. Thus, while both public and private wiretapping have a long history of use in the United States, the post-9/11 panic has resulted in a significant expansion of the government in the area of wiretapping and privacy.
IV. An Exploration of the Arguments Concerning the Government's Expansion of Wiretapping Privileges
While few disagree that both the Patriot Act's treatment of wiretapping and President George W. Bush's decision to order wiretapping without a congressional approval indicate an expansion of the United States government, arguments both for and against the expansion exist. For the Bush Whitehouse, and many law enforcement agents, wiretapping without a court order is "a necessary program," allowing for the disruption of terrorist cells throughout the country (Smith, the Whitehouse"). In fact, according to official Whitehouse statements, the Patriot Act has already lead to the dissolution of several terrorist cells and the prosecution of terrorists from several states. President George W. Bush also argued that his actions simply brought to light an already common executive policy, suggesting that after the Richard Nixon Watergate scandal, "presidents have ceded some of the legitimate power of the office" in favor of positive public opinion (Smith). Bush defends his claims with the constitution's second amendment, which defines the office's executive powers, most importantly its powers as commander-in-chief. Both the Bush administration and some legal scholars suggest that these powers pertain not only to a president's right to wage wars in other nations and command his or her own military, but also that they apply to his or her responsibility to maintain order within the United States. Similarly, while "all necessary and appropriate force" is usually considered military force, some suggest that wiretapping and surveillance is a type of force necessary for insuring the safety of the nation (Smith).
While legal and constitutional backing for the president's powers is important and necessary, scholars and observers have also noted a pragmatic need for an expansion of the executive branch in this way. For example, Leslie Wollack's Nation Cities Weekly article suggests that New York City is still underprepared for disasters like the September 11, 2001 attacks and Bruce Kuniholm calls for a more comprehensive Bush doctrine, suggesting that "the enemy now is international terrorism -- an elusive enemy that can be targeted only through massive international cooperation coupled with the will to go after terrorists and the states that harbor them" (427). Because the United States' and the world's terrorist problem is far from being solved, some suggest that an expanded executive in terms of wireless tapping is necessary.
But some still see the expansion as tredding on the toes of American's civil liberties. For instance, a 2006 Washington Post-ABC News Poll suggested that about 2/3 of Americans believe that President Bush's "domestic eavesdropping without court authorization" is not justified by the extreme situation of international and domestic terrorism. Because most of those surveyed said that they did support "aggressive government pursuit of terrorist threats, even if it may infringe on personal privacy" it is safe to say that the president's decision to use wiretapping without a court order is of an extermally controversial nature.
Although wiretapping has been a part of American history since the late 1800s, the events of September 11, 2001 turned the issue into one of significant importance for the United States government and its citizens. While the United States constitution had precariously set up checks and balances to limit the power of its three branches, the events of September 11, 2001 significantly expanded the power of those branches and the government as a whole using, among other tools, wiretapping. By using his executive power as commander and chief to authorize the use of wiretapping on American citizens without a court order, President George W. Bush set a precident for liberal interpretation and non-military national security intervention.
Just one of several aspects of government expansion launched after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush's treatment of wiretapping and his increased executive powers have resulted in a great deal of controversy throughout the United States. For some, the expansion of powers marks a rightful attempt to protect American citizens, a necessary endeavor in light of the holes in national security still rampant despite continued efforts to address it. For others, the expansion marks a dangerous slippery slope toward government control and civil rights abuses. Regardless of these controversies, the expansion of government powers since the September 11th terrorist attacks have introduced a new phase in American government and history that scholars must analyze in order to make assumptions regarding American law and policy.
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