Utah’s Congressmen & Executive Eavesdropping

This last weekend was not a particularly encouraging one regarding Utah’s congressional delegation.

Congress passed a bill modifying the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, allowing the administration a more free hand in eavesdropping on electric communication. It isn’t terribly surprising that the entire Utah delegation voted in favor of the bill, some rather enthusiastically.

While the bill isn’t catastrophic , I’m still very wary. Congressional Republicans (and their moderate Democrat allies) seem to have forgotten the fact that one of the most essential principles of our government is that of checks and balances. The Constitution, for example, is specifically set up to minimize the possibility that any individual, branch, or political will accumulate too much power. The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the military forces and can send those forces to battle, but it is up to the Senate to declare war and in doing so permit continued deployment of those forces. The President can veto the bills of congress, though he can be overridden. The Supreme Court is the final arbiter as to whether the work of both Congress and the President is consistent with the Constitution. Every time the founders listed a power, they strove to provide a method by which some other body in the government could reign in that power.

Note that most of the men who negotiated the Constitution were especially concerned with checking the power of the President. They’d seen all to well in their lives and study of history the tragic consequences of an unrestrained executive power.

Yet Utah’s congressmen, along with many others, seem perfectly willing to abdicate their responsibility to contain executive power and to trust in the discretion of an administration and an Attorney General who, as R.Johnson of GoodWillHinton.com succinctly points out, has provided little evidence of such discretion.

I’m very cautious about giving any government the approval for surveillance. The temptation to abuse such power is extremely strong, and the surveillance is all too often used for less-than-savory purposes. It is ironic that the very day I heard the news, I was reading in H.W. Brands’ The Devil We Knew about the intensive FBI surveillance in the ‘50s and ‘60s of members and organizations in the Civil Rights movement—not because these people posed any legitimate threat to national security, but because the Civil Rights movement posed a threat to the Southern (and national) institutions favored by powerful political constituencies and individuals at the time. I’d like to avoid giving any government similar opportunities at this time; as prone as this administration appears to be to abuse its power in pursuit of its agenda, I’m particularly concerned now.

Worse yet, this temporary bill is not the end of the changes President Bush is seeking.

We must remember that our work is not done. This bill is a temporary, narrowly focused statue to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law.

Given the support of Utah’s congressmen for virtually anything this administration wants, I’m not terribly optimistic that they’ll help hold out for more accountability and checks on further surveillance legislation.

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