To the editor: The warrantless wiretaps that are being conducted by the Bush administration are patently illegal and in direct conflict with core principles enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Breaking the law does not make Americans safer.These liberties are not abstract. Freedom from government spying on our private lives is at the core of what it means to be American – the kind of personal liberty that hundreds of thousands of Americans have died to protect. Americans should never have to fear that their own government is out of control.Law enforcement can already get surveillance authority quickly, secretly, and legally. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court already exists to give secret warrants in cases involving national security. Where time is a factor, the government can legally start surveillance for up to three days before getting the warrant.Illegal surveillance can only serve to undermine public confidence in government. If the President is willing to break one law, how can we trust him to respect any law? If Congress and the courts don’t, or can’t, step in to stop this illegal behavior, how can we trust them to stop any illegal behavior? Letting the President declare himself above the law is a terrible and dangerous precedent that concerns legal scholars, judges, and members of Congress from both parties.“Trust me,” is not an excuse. The founders never intended us to rely on blind faith that the President wouldn’t abuse his power. That’s why they created a system of checks and balances to make sure each branch would keep an eye on the others. That’s the kind of government the Constitution creates.Any outdated laws should be changed, not broken. Congressional leaders of both parties have made clear that they are willing to update laws to give the President the power he needs, subject to constitutional safeguards and oversight. If the President thinks the law is out of date, he should ask Congress to change it. Instead, he broke it.Mike ElmendorfLong Beach
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