Mostly un-noticed, Bush has claimed for himself powers to open domestic mail without a warrant in a 2006 signing statement which directly contradicted the bill it was appended to.
Bush asserted the new authority Dec. 20 after signing legislation that overhauls some postal regulations. He then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open mail under emergency conditions, contrary to existing law and contradicting the bill he had just signed, according to experts who have reviewed it.Note that "exigent circumstances" doesn't just refer to some "ticking bomb" mythical scenario but also to any longstanding declared emergency - like the general 'war on terror". The administration could already ask for a FISA warrant to open any suspect mail - and the Postal Service already has the rigfht to delay delivery. But that's not good enough for power-hungry Dubya.
A White House spokeswoman disputed claims that the move gives Bush any new powers, saying the Constitution allows such searches.
Still, the move, one year after The New York Times' disclosure of a secret program that allowed warrantless monitoring of Americans' phone calls and e-mail, caught Capitol Hill by surprise.
"Despite the president's statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people's mail without a warrant," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the incoming House Government Reform Committee chairman, who co-sponsored the bill.
Experts said the new powers could be easily abused and used to vacuum up large amounts of mail.
"The [Bush] signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington.
"You have to be concerned," a senior U.S. official agreed. "It takes executive-branch authority beyond anything we've ever known."
...Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane changes. But the legislation also explicitly reinforces protections of first-class mail from searches without a court's approval.
Yet, in his statement, Bush said he will "construe" an exception, "which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection in a manner consistent ... with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances."
The same Congress who are now being so tame on telecom immunity promised to look into it back then. I hope you didn't hold your breath because we've not heard a damn thing about hearings on the matter.
Via Larisa, who asserts:
I left the Soviet Union only to find myself back where I came from. The label might say America, but it is clear that America is a long forgotten dreamThat's soft totalitarianism for you, Larisa.
Update Post edited to show that the signing statement and bill date to December 2006, as does the Congressional promise to look into the matter. Hands up those who knew about that signing statement or who've heard anything about that promised oversight.