Our privacy rights are protected in the Fourth Amendment's ban on "unreasonable search and seizure." Any good police detective will tell you how important it is to establish the chain of evidence, and how easily a mistake can get the evidence thrown out of court.

The Communications Act of 1934 expanded and clarified Fourth Amendment rights when it banned recording or intercepting communications without the consent of at least one party. The Federal Wiretap Act of 1968 made electronic surveillance illegal without a warrant.

Last February, President Bush and former National Security director Gen. Michael Hayden, now director of the CIA, told Congress and the country that the private conversations of Americans here and abroad would not be intercepted if Congress authorized the warrantless, terrorist surveillance program. We could rest assured that our civil liberties would be protected. Well, like so much of what we’ve been told by this President and his administration, they either didn’t know what they were talking about, or they were being untruthful.

According to two former military intercept operators who worked at the NSA center in Fort Gordon, Georgia, hundreds of US citizens overseas have been eavesdropped on as they called friends and family back home. American journalists and American aid workers were also routinely intercepted as they called their offices or homes in the United States, including personnel from the International Red Cross and Doctors without Borders. So instead of looking for terrorists, operators were wasting their time listening to Americans talking to their spouses and girlfriends.

Unfortunately, this recent revelation adds to the growing list of government privacy violations. Last May, USA Today reported that several phone carriers had turned over their databases of customers' domestic phone records to the NSA.

When they reauthorized the Patriot Act last March, Congress changed the wording to the emergency exception in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The original language allowed disclosure only if "the provider reasonably believes that an emergency involving immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to any person justifies disclosure of the information." The update replaced "reasonably believes" with the phrase "in good faith" and eliminated the word "immediate.”

As we sacrifice our protections under the Fourth Amendment and our civil liberties on the altar of fear, we move closer to George Orwell’s vision of an all-knowing government that uses surveillance to control its citizens.

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