Do good intentions override a good law?

Practically every other week there is news of a scandal regarding this presidential administration coming to the surface. To be fair, many of these are actually rather minor, even non-existent. But the unabashed violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by President Bush is not one of those.

Established in 1978 as a response to the excesses of Watergate, the act makes it illegal to conduct phone surveillance, or wiretapping, against American citizens suspected of being foreign intelligence assets without first getting a warrant from the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Keep this in mind, however: The court has approved 99.98 percent of requests.

The president probably does have the best interests of the American people at heart in the matter. He seems to legitimately believe this program is necessary to protect the country.

Anyone who thinks this program is being used to spy on Aunt Gladys when she’s talking to her cousin in Phoenix rather than to conduct intelligence operations on those the government thinks are about to commit acts of violence against the American people is being disingenuous at best or paranoid at worst.

However, good intentions do not give Bush carte blanche to ignore the law, regardless of what the Justice Department may argue.

The administration has four major reasons as to why it should be allowed to continue its wiretapping program.

First, the administration claims wiretaps are needed to be able to conduct surveillance quickly because there are forms of fast communication available to both sides which were unimaginable in 1978 when the statute was written. Seeing as the surveillance grants warrants up to 72 hours after the fact, this excuse fails to hold water.

Second, if the administration publicly called for a change in the act or even allowed for transparency regarding the program already put into place by the National Security Agency, then the terrorists would know our intelligence secrets. How simply telling a judge that they desire a warrant tips off terrorists is rather unclear. Members of terror cells already know we’re listening in on their calls, that’s why they talk in code.

Also, Bush, through his proxy Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, has argued that because previous presidents conducted such intelligence, he is justified in doing the same. It’s just that Franklin Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson weren’t violating the law when conducting their operations.

The final reason is by far the most worrisome. Bush gives the strong impression that he follows Nixon’s old maxim that if the president does it, that means it is legal. Or to be more exact, during a time of war he has the ability to break the law if he deems it to be necessary to protect the American people.

Unfortunately, this leads to the rather Orwellian occurrence of the executive branch abrogating the Constitution in the name of protecting the Constitution.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.