THE BLOG
06/09/2005 03:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bush, Check Your Briefing Book!

There are many ways for a president to mislead the public. Here's one.

Appearing before the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy today, George W. Bush gave a speech lauding the Patriot Act and calling for its extension and expansion. He did his best to make it seem that all the provisions of the act--and the new ones his administration wants to add to the law--are strictly monitored and controlled by judges. This is how he put it:

We need to renew the critical provisions of the Patriot Act that protect our civil liberties. The Patriot Act was written with clear safeguards to ensure the law is applied fairly. The judicial branch has a strong oversight role. Law enforcement officers need a federal judge's permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist's phone, a federal judge's permission to track his calls, or a federal judge's permission to search his property. Officers must meet strict standards to use any of these tools. And these standards are fully consistent with the Constitution of the U.S.

Would you believe this misrepresents reality? Under section 215 of the act, judges who participate in a secret court that oversees top-secret national security investigations must approve a government request for medical, bank, business and other records if law enforcement agents assert they need the material for a foreign intelligence investigation. (None of these requests have ever been rejected.) Moreover, the Bush administration is now pushing Congress to approve "administrative subpoenas." These would let the FBI issue its own search orders without having to request permission from a judge. As the ACLU huffs, "If [this] became law, we would go from diminished judicial approval to none at all: this is the administration's idea of checks and balances."

Yes, as Bush notes, judges are playing a role in overseeing certain provisions of the Patriot Act. But it's a limited role, and Bush is trying to cut them out of the picture in certain instances. For some reason, he didn't tell the state highway patrol officers that.

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