Tuesday, August 14, 2007

ACLU to Gonzo: "Watzyerthinkin' here?" Anyone think he'll answer?

The Honorable Alberto Gonzales
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

Today, my staff was briefed by the Justice Department regarding guidelines to institute the new foreign to domestic wiretapping authority Congress granted to you this month by The Protect America Act.

Regrettably, my colleagues reported that they learned virtually nothing new about how you intend to use the broad new authority to intercept emails and phone calls when one party is in the U.S., or how those U.S. people will be protected from unwarranted government intrusion. With so much at stake, the public needs to have a fuller understanding of what its Justice Department will be doing with its most private communications.

In particular, the Act confers on you the authority to issue year long orders for entire spying programs that identify neither the people nor the facilities that will be tapped. The only requirement is that the communications be of an international character - that at least one leg of the email or call is overseas. By definition, this new program will sweep in all those calls where the other leg is in the U.S., and will do so without court or congressional review. While we have long supported legislation that would allow our government to intercept foreign to foreign calls, this new, warrantless interception of Americans' international communications is far more than what the Administration asked for and what we believe the Constitution allows.

Further, the legislation was silent on how to treat these communications to which someone in the U.S. is a party. We are gravely concerned that Congress chose not to include mandatory protections for American communications, and instead left all such decisions to the Justice Department without further guidance.

Because you are solely responsible for determining how U.S. persons will be protected in this new program, we respectfully request a meeting with you to discuss in more depth how the Justice Department will be using its new authority. In particular, we would like to discuss:
Whether your new authority will be used to collect all international communications coming into and out of the United States,

*Whether you plan to return to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when you discover that a certain line or person has significant contact with the United States, and

*How information gathered on people in the United States will be used and what civil liberties safeguards will be put in place for instances in which information is collected on individuals who have no intelligence value to the government.

Congress left all of these questions to your discretion and we eagerly look forward to discussing with you how the Justice Department intends to deal with the serious civil liberties issues implicated by this new law.


Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director
American Civil Liberties Union
ACLU Website

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