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Missing from the debate over expanding NSA authority in the War on Terror is the simple question, beyond our reflexive desire for privacy: why is expanding this authority such a bad idea? We know the Feds have done nasty, un-American things like spy on activists like Martin Luther King, but it comes out in the wash, doesn’t it? Did the Founders, who took pains to enshrine freedom from “unreasonable search and seizure,” without “probable cause,” understand what the Stasi, Hitler, and the KGB
The 11-judge court that authorizes FISA wiretaps has approved at least 18,740 applications for electronic surveillance or physical searches from five presidential administrations since 1979.
The judges modified only two search warrant orders out of the 13,102 applications that were approved over the first 22 years of the court's operation. In 20 of the first 21 annual reports on the court's activities up to 1999, the Justice Department told Congress that "no orders were entered (by the FISA court) which modified or denied the requested authority" submitted by the government.
But since 2001, the judges have modified 179 of the 5,645 requests for court-ordered surveillance by the Bush administration. A total of 173 of those court-ordered "substantive modifications" took place in 2003 and 2004 -- the most recent years for which public records are available.
The judges also rejected or deferred at least six requests for warrants during those two years -- the first outright rejection in the court's history.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said last week that Bush authorized NSA surveillance of overseas communications by U.S.-based terror suspects because the FISA court's approval process was too cumbersome.