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  (Source: Reuters)
SCOTUS, presidential nominees appear united: sometimes due process is just not convenient

In a ruling that has a deep impact on domestic surveillance in the short term, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) opted not to review a controversial U.S. federal circuit appeals court decision which upheld legal immunity provisions for telecoms who wiretap at the behest of the federal government.

I. President, Romney Unanimous in Support for Warrantless Wiretaps

Removing immunity would essentially leave telecoms unlikely to comply with warrantless requests, as they could be penalized in court by citizen lawsuits for following warrantelss data demands.  The basis of U.S. criminal law for centuries has been cornered on obtaining warrants to investigate persons of interest.  But over the past several decades, both parties have increasingly argued that due process is inconvenient and at times a threat to national security.

The two parties worked hand in hand to grant cooperating telecoms immunity from lawsuits via "Protect America Act" of 2007 (Pub.L. 110-55S. 1927).

Both Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney support throwing out due process (warrants) in cases where national security is viewed to be at risk -- a policy first put in place by Republican President George W. Bush (with bipartisan support from America's two ruling parties) in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Bush and Obama
President Obama and his predecessor President Bush agree on many things, including that the federal government should be granted unregulated spying on its citizens.
[Image Source:]

Mr. Romney expressed a viewpoint narrowly in line with President Obama's plugging warrantless wiretaps in a recent interview (see below), stating, "If it means we have to go into a mosque to wiretap or a church, then that's exactly where we are gonna go, because we are going to do whatever it takes to protect the American people. And I hear from time to time people say, 'Hey, wait a sec, we have civil liberties to worry about', but don't forget... the most important civil liberty I expect from my government is my right to be kept alive."

In a statement on the SCOTUS ruling, President Obama marched in lock-step with his political rival, with his press office writing [PDF]:

Electronic surveillance for law enforcement and intelligence purposes depends in great part on the cooperation of the private companies that operate the nation's telecommunication system.

If litigation were allowed to proceed against those who allegedly assisted in such activities, the private sector might be unwilling to cooperate with lawful government requests in the future, and the possible reduction in intelligence that might result is simply unacceptable for the safety of our nation.

The SCOTUS did not explain why it made its decision to punt in this case.  The only evidence that it made the decision at all is a note in the case docket stating the case will not be heard.

That silent nod to the prevailing sentiment on The Hill is a win for America's two ruling parties, who are unanimous in their belief that the right to "be kept alive" (by the government) mandates spying on citizens without due process now and then.

II. Opponents Continue to Fight on

Of course civil liberties advocacies like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and a handful of politicians like Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) disagree.  

He argues that the American political system has been hijacked by zealots, commenting, "The PATRIOT Act was written many, many years before 9/11, [the attacks simply provided] an opportunity for some people to do what they wanted to do..."

"Democracy isn't all that healthy in this country because if you're in a third party... you don't get in the debates... And if you ever come to the conclusion -- heaven forbid -- that the two parties aren't all that different, then what is left really?"

Ron Paul
Ron Paul is one of the few politicians to support keeping due process, even in the face of the nebulous "terrorist" threat.  [Image Source: NBC]

EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl concurs, adding:

By passing the retroactive immunity for the telecoms' complicity in the warrantless wiretapping program, Congress abdicated its duty to the American people.  It is disappointing that... [the courts] endorsed the rights of telecommunications companies over those over their customers.

But in the current political climate voices like the EFF and Rep. Paul's are mere whispers in a sea of shouts of support.  Without saying a word, the punt by America's most powerful federal court in effect adds one of the loudest voices yet in support of warrantless wiretaps, although it leaves the door open for later revision, should America's political climate drastically change.

Source: The SCOTUS

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Situational Awareness
By EricMartello on 10/12/2012 9:10:55 AM , Rating: 2
I think it's quite easy to get carried away with the conspiracy theories and slippery-slope arguments associated with warrantless wiretapping and other legislature that challenges American's civil rights...but I have to wonder - if a person or organization is suspected of terrorism AND there is enough information to provide 'probable cause' then why is obtaining a warrant such a big deal? It seems like it should be quite straight-forward.

When the patriot act was enacted, it was rational and necessary...but it should have been repealed once we had the information we needed to pursue osama and associated terrorists. At the very least, it should have been revised to cut down on its infringement of US civil rights.

RE: Situational Awareness
By tayb on 10/12/2012 10:03:11 AM , Rating: 4
When the patriot act was enacted, it was rational and necessary

Unless we are at a state of war (we aren't) there is absolutely nothing rational or necessary about violating the constitution and the bill of rights.

Fear mongering. When Democrats voted against the Patriot Act Republicans such as John Boehner publicly chastised Democrats as "voting for terrorism." Yes, voting for maintaining our civil rights is voting for terrorism (sarcasm). Fast forward a few years and now all parties are in favor of the Patriot Act. What a sham.

RE: Situational Awareness
By gamerk2 on 10/12/2012 10:16:01 AM , Rating: 3
Because the Patriot Act has enough support, so going against it is bad politics.

See the root problem here? If the voters support something idiotic, so will the politicians.

RE: Situational Awareness
By WinstonSmith on 10/12/2012 11:16:38 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, idiotic voters allow such things. But the people who are supposed to know all of the details of legislation IN DEPTH because that's THEIR JOB have for quite some time now passed laws that are OBVIOUSLY unconstitutional with the attitude that they'll just let the judicial branch (the Supreme Court) challenge it. However, someone must bring a case against the legislation to challenge it, which takes lots of money and time, and the Supreme Court doesn't have the time to hear every case. Thus, all sorts of things that should have been nixed by them aren't; egregious legislation piles up over time and sets precedents that are then used to pass even more egregious legislation.

It used to be that the legislative and executive branch were very careful about what they passed, carefully deciding whether what they were thinking of doing was constitutional, filtering out the bad stuff. NOT any more.

RE: Situational Awareness
By tayb on 10/12/2012 1:21:13 PM , Rating: 2
Fear mongering.

RE: Situational Awareness
By WinstonSmith on 10/12/2012 10:59:36 AM , Rating: 3
"Unless we are at a state of war (we aren't) there is absolutely nothing rational or necessary about violating the constitution and the bill of rights."

You fail to understand the trick they're using. According to them, we ARE in a (phony) state of war, the "war on terrorism." That is then used to "justify" legislation and measures that gradually take us down the slippery slope.

RE: Situational Awareness
By Ringold on 10/13/2012 5:49:59 PM , Rating: 2
I half agree.. We're absolutely in a state of war, whether we admit it or not doesn't matter because our opponents say we are themselves.

But, violating the constitution to win a war is Pyrrhic victory. Why should America bother to be victorious if the point of America's existence is given up in the process? That's the problem I have with Lincoln, the problem I've got with Roosevelt, and the problem with half the laws passed since 2001. We were founded to have a more limited government and individual liberty then Europe. At this rate, we might as well apply for entrance to the EU and forget this entire experiment.

RE: Situational Awareness
By WinstonSmith on 10/12/2012 10:51:54 AM , Rating: 2
"why is obtaining a warrant such a big deal"

It wasn't and isn't. The secret FISA "Court" had a history of rubber stamping virtually everything even prior to 9/11.

"When the patriot act was enacted, it was rational and necessary"

NO, most of it wasn't. EVERY bit of info needed to stop 9/11 cold was known in spades prior to the attack using the laws and intel assets already in existence. It was a failure to connect the obvious dots due to incompetence, bureaucratic infighting and refusal to share data between agencies.

But, of course, every time that happens with our government, the excuse they use is "we didn't have enough money and assets and the laws were too restrictive" and the general public, having not sufficiently investigated the issue on their own, buys into it.

RE: Situational Awareness
By EricMartello on 10/12/2012 12:28:10 PM , Rating: 2
EVERY bit of info needed to stop 9/11 cold was known in spades prior to the attack using the laws and intel assets already in existence.

It's no secret that politicians use fear mongering to dupe people into supporting things that are not in their best interests. That said, I don't necessarily support the continuance of the patriot act for now and I do believe they COULD HAVE done the job without it, but what you're saying here is a far stretch without any real supporting documentation to back it up.

A lot of people have this "hollywood" perception of the FBI & CIA that they're some omnipotent, all-knowing's least not yet.

Much of the information law enforcement and intelligence operatives rely on is not cross-indexed in one master database, meaning that what seems like an obvious correlation can easily go overlooked because the data is there but not accessible to whoever is conducting the investigations. Cross-indexing the vast amounts of information ALREADY AVAILABLE on US citizens and other people living here as residents or aliens, a good portion of it public record, could also be construed as a civil rights violation...but it would make investigations significantly easier to conduct and faster to complete.

I would file something like the patriot act under a highly conditional state of rule like martial law. Congress could invoke martial law, for some reason, and then opt to never revoke it, effectively turning the US into a military police state.

RE: Situational Awareness
By NellyFromMA on 10/12/2012 12:57:24 PM , Rating: 2
I mean, you basically hit it on the head right there. It's not for that situation for the reason you just outlined.

It's not really getting carried away with conspiracy. It's actually 'situational awareness' on the part of the american citizen.

Warrantless wiretap is 100% unconstitutional particularly when applied to American-to-American conversations.

That's not a conspiracy, its an esily determined assessment of our civil liberties being taken away in the name of a situation that is already handled properly without warrantless wire tapping.

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il

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