ACLU Welcomes Senate Oversight Hearing on NSA Warrantless Eavesdropping; Legal Experts To Express Concerns About Constitutionality of Program

February 28, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the Senate Judiciary Committee held its second oversight hearing on the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency, the American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the move as a necessary step to help restore the rule of law. That panel heard from legal experts about the unconstitutionality of the illegal program of spying on Americans.

“It is clear that this illegal program violates our Constitution and laws governing surveillance,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The president’s false choice between securing our nation and preserving our Constitution must be rejected. Congress has an obligation to determine the truth, especially since the administration is unwilling to check itself. Hearings like this help ensure steps are taken so the rule of law is respected by all, even the president.”

Today’s hearing featured legal experts from across the political spectrum, many of whom have serious concerns about the warrantless eavesdropping program’s legality. It comes on the heels of the White House’s refusal on Monday to appoint a special counsel to investigate the illegal NSA program. The ACLU had asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to appoint a special counsel last December, and several House Democrats echoed that call.

A poll of more than 1000 registered voters that was commissioned by the ACLU was released last Friday. The results showed that a majority polled opposes the warrantless eavesdropping program and there is a strong belief among voters for the need for the executive branch to be subject to the checks and balances of the courts and Congress. The ACLU noted that when given the facts about the illegal surveillance program – that it is conducted without warrants – a majority of American voters reject the president’s claim that it is necessary and legal.

Since news of the program broke last year, the ACLU, civil rights and privacy groups, legal scholars, members of Congress and the non-partisan Congressional Research Service have all raised questions about the legality of the program. The ACLU has also filed a legal challenge to the unconstitutional program and a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain more details about the operation. On Presidents’ Day, the ACLU hosted a national town hall forum on the warrantless spying program.

“The unwillingness of the administration to be honest about this secret program to spy on Americans demands that Congress get the facts, not just administration rhetoric,” said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. “The truth can be determined without compromising national security. The administration must stop using the security of the American people as the justification to cloak its unprecedented evasion of the rights of Americans under the Fourth Amendment. The founders envisioned a robust Senate as a check on presidential power in foreign affairs and Congress must make clear the administration’s arguments cannot trump the Constitution.”

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the warrantless NSA spying program, go to: /nsaspying

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