So here's what I think is wrong. And here's an example of how it doesn't have to get really excessive in order to mess up someone's life.
What we have right now, in America, is a system where the 4th Amendment is essentially void, where citizens subject to search and seizure at any time, without disclosure or oversight, check, balance, or public record. The 4th Amendment, for the record, states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
This is a law written before even the widespread use of the telegraph, so "papers" in this context means letters as well as records, and therefore has been understood solidly as meaning long-distance communication like email and phone calls.
Since early 2002, President Bush has personally authorized and re-authorized a program to violate the 4th Amendment, permitting wiretaps without any effort to obtain a warrant. This program is ongoing, happening right now, and justified by the threat of terrorism. This program is illegal.
Now, the line from the apologists for the President's Program is that we can't be bothered with sissy stuff like warrants since we're at war with evil people. The problem is, there's a really fucking easy way to, like, follow the law and get a warrant for anything terrorism-related. It's called the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Courts, a little system devised especially for this sort of thing. You can even get the warrant retroactively if you've got something pressing and need to move on it. In other words, you could search someone's home or tap their phone or take all their shit and impound it, and go get a warrant up to three days later as long as you had a decent explanation. Basically, the FISC's whole purpose is to be a fail-safe to prevent the State from using the guise of national security as a cover for other kinds of searches and seizures.
And the President decided he didn't need that kind of check on his power.
This program needs to stop now. Every unauthorized search and seizure made under the President's Program should be submitted to the FISC for review. Those that are a part of ongoing investigations which are legitimate can and will remain sealed -- that's another thing the FISC does -- until those investigations are concluded. However, if innocent people have been secretly spied upon, they have a right to know, and to seek redress.
For me, this is a line in the sand, so to speak. What the president has done is indefensible. There is absolutely no legitimate reason why you need to go around the FISC to effectively combat terrorism. The overhead for compliance with the law is not unduly burdensome. You can get the fucking warrants three days after the fact for crying out loud. The only reason to do it is to have complete secrecy about who you're spying on. Unchecked power. Tell me that wouldn't be tempting to misuse.
The fact that they're unwilling to open any of this up suggests strongly to me that they have something to hide. Have they been spying on journalists? On activists? On other politicians? On you? On me? It's unlikely that it's you or me, but at this point there's no way to know.
This is a watershed moment in terms of what the American people will put up with in the name of combatting terrorism. Terrorism as a justification for State crackdowns is not going away in our lifetime. We either submit to this threat as an ever-present rationale for taking away any of our freedoms at any time, or we draw the line here. If you're a Bush supporter and you think this is all hot air, imagine if Hillary Clinton becomes president in 2008. Would you be comfortable with her weilding the same authority?
Frankly, I'm uncomfortable with either. It's not just that I believe the President, or more likely his henchmen, to be venial and vindictive enough to misuse this power for political revenge, it's that this is cover for any number government agents to violate the rights of citizens.
This is beyond politics. This is about the State turning into a truly oppressive entity. Under an ever-present cloud of war, the State can secretly spy on you, abduct you without arrest or charge, place you in a secret prison, torture and kill you. Maybe because you read the wrong books. Are you comfortable with that? I'm not.
UPDATE: Again, it's ridiculously easy to comply with the law here. In its history, the FISC has rejected only 4 requests for a warrant. That's 4 out of more than 17,000. And again, you don't have to ask for the warrant before you start spying, just within three days after the fact.