A US federal judge’s ruling calling for an immediate end to the Bush administration’s practice of eavesdropping, without a warrant, on the phone calls and e-mails of US residents suspected of links with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups is hardly any surprise. Detroit District Judge Anna Diggs reportedly ruled that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) wiretapping programme, initiated in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, represented ‘an abuse of presidential power’, and violated the privacy and free speech provisions of the US Constitution. This is the second time in a month that the Bush administration is facing a major legal setback in its war on terror. Last June, the US Supreme Court denied President Bush the authority to try terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with military tribunals. The apex court held that the tribunals not only lacked Congressional authorisation, but also violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions.
The civil rights groups that sued the NSA obviously had their own reasons for seeking to scrap the domestic spying programme as it hampers the ability of journalists and scholars to communicate with sources overseas and conduct research. Besides, the NSA evidently overstepped its authority since it already had adequate emergency powers under an existing foreign surveillance law, which allows it to tap international communications of people in the US and go to a secret court later for retro-active permission. It’s inarguable that, post-9/11, any administration in Washington would have made sweeping changes in legislation to strengthen homeland security. But that still didn’t warrant the government resorting to such Orwellian anti-terror laws without carefully balancing civil freedoms with security concerns as apparently happened.
A much better option for the Bush administration would probably have been to publicly explain what the changes meant and why they were necessary and get Congressional support. Then the US would have preserved its vaunted liberties, instead of appearing to becoming some kind of a police State, as appears to be the case now.