Domestic Spying Ends, but Administration Isn't Off the Hook

On Wednesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales informed Congress that President Bush decided not to extend his authorization of the National Security Agency’s warrantless domestic spying program. This is welcome news, as the President’s program violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and was clearly illegal. A federal court even found it to be unconstitutional.

It’s hard to believe that President Bush’s change of heart was unrelated to the fact that new congressional leaders have come into power. Judiciary Committee Chairmen Leahy and Conyers have made it clear that they are committed to the type of strong oversight that the last Congress neglected to provide. Unfortunately, this issue is not yet resolved. Congressional oversight and judicial review are more important now than ever.

It is too early for those of us who care about civil liberties and the rule of law to breathe easy. We welcome the administration’s acknowledgement that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which it illegally circumvented for years, actually exists and serves as an important part of our system of checks and balances. But without more details about how the administration’s revised program will be conducted, and whether it will incorporate the use of individualized warrants, no one will know if the administration is fully committed to following FISA. Congress has an oversight responsibility to ensure that FISA is fully implemented and that the law is followed. Those of us in the civil liberties advocacy community will keep up the pressure to ensure that this happens.

Additionally, even if the administration now starts to follow the law, past lawbreaking still must be accounted for. No one who commits a crime should be let off the hook simply because she or he promises not to do it again. Congress must investigate the extent of President Bush’s domestic wiretapping program, and it must hold lawbreakers accountable. Every citizen of this great nation should have the confidence that no one, not even the President, is above the law.