March 3, 2006

Student Groups Discuss Wiretaps

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Tempers flared last night as the College Libertarians and the College Republicans debated the National Security Agency’s wiretaps on U.S. citizens. The issue has sparked fierce controversy since The New York Times revealed last December that President George W. Bush secretly authorized the NSA to conduct domestic surveillance without obtaining a warrant.

Domestic spying ordinarily falls under the aegis of the FBI, yet the 2002 presidential order allows the NSA to eavesdrop on international telephone calls and e-mails in the United States in an effort to prevent further terrorist attacks. While the initiative is said to have thwarted several serious Al Qaeda plots, it has nevertheless ignited a brouhaha over the nature of civil liberties, presidential power and domestic security.

Andrew Loewer ’09 and Ryan Juliano ’06 of the Cornell Libertarians argued that President Bush had overstepped his power by not first seeking approval from the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. The Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 mandates that the administration obtain approval from the court before conducting wiretaps without warrants, although the administration may wait 15 days after the wiretaps to do so.

“He’s [Bush] exceeded that by four years,” Juliano said. Both Juliano and Loewer believed that the president’s authorization has encroached on Americans’ civil liberties.

Nittin Chadda ’07 and Nick Baldasaro grad of the College Republicans countered that N.S.A wiretaps have proved effective in preventing terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, that the president had acted appropriately during a “time of war” and that the current political climate demanded timely action.

Citing the Constitution, Chadda said that the president “has complete and full authority to do that which is necessary” to protect Americans. He added that the “Al Qaeda operation is extremely nimble and the administration must uphold secrecy when working against it.”

“As much as one might not like wiretaps, they are there to save us from far greater intrusions” into our lives, Baldasaro maintained.

“There’s little reason why the administration would circumvent FISA courts,” Juliano said in opposition. “