THIS spring was a rough season for the Fourth Amendment. The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court to allow GPS tracking of vehicles without judicial permission. The Supreme Court ruled that the police could break into a house without a search warrant if, after knocking and announcing themselves, they heard what sounded like evidence being destroyed. Then it refused to see a Fourth Amendment violation where a citizen was jailed for 16 days on the false pretext that he was being held as a material witness to a crime.The Senate Intelligence Committee met last week, in secret, to consider the Justice Department's extremely broad interpretation of the powers granted to investigators by the Patriot Act. From Time Magazine:
In addition, Congress renewed Patriot Act provisions on enhanced surveillance powers until 2015, and the F.B.I. expanded agents’ authority to comb databases, follow people and rummage through their trash even if they are not suspected of a crime . . .
Last Tuesday the committee met to consider the worries of some members, mostly Democrats, who say the Justice Department has drafted a breathtakingly broad interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act . . . That section allows the FBI to seize without a warrant "any tangible things," like documents . . . as long as the bureau can convince a special national-security court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, that the information is "relevant" to antiterrorism work . . . Privacy advocates, however, consider it little more than a rubber stamp.
Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, went further, saying the government was using that opinion to conduct some sort of dragnet surveillance. "Innocent Americans are being swept up in this," was about all Udall could say to TIME.
That sounds a lot like something a certain junior Senator from Illinois might have said back in December 2005, when he joined eight other Senators in penning a dear-colleague letter that argued, among other things, that Section 215 was too broad. "We believe the government should be required to convince a judge that the records they are seeking have some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy," wrote Obama and the other Senators.Of course, President Obama is now singing a different tune. And it's one with which we're already familiar. For example, the Obama administration claims that the war in Libya is neither illegal nor unconstitutional because it is not a war. In the case of the Patriot Act, the administration's position is that illegal search and seizure is not illegal because it's not a search or seizure. From Time again: