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Still some doubts on wiretapping

January 22, 2007

Re "U.S. ceases warrantless spy operation," Jan. 18

Isn't this what the law required all along? Why should we believe the Bush administration this time?

MARK HUBERMAN

Los Angeles

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The media and many in Congress are portraying the change in the administration's domestic spying operations as a significant concession to criticism that it was illegal because it was carried out without court approval. Not so fast. The attorney general's letter announcing the change does say that the internal eavesdropping "will now be conducted subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court." It also demonstrates that the administration's idea of judicial oversight may be a sham. What has not been widely reported is the attorney general's stated basis for his conclusion that the government spying will be subject to FISA court approval: recent orders of one judge of that court allowing surveillance where there is probable cause to believe a communication includes a terrorist organization's member or agent.

Critically, the letter does not say who decides whether there is probable cause in each individual case. If, as is quite possible, the orders allow the administration alone to make that determination, nothing of substance has changed, except perhaps for Americans having been lulled into a false sense of security about the safety of their constitutional rights.

DAVID S. ETTINGER

Oak Park

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