You’ve Got Mail

Ken AshfordConstitutionLeave a Comment

The leader of Iraq has unilaterally declared that he has the right and the power to authorize government to open citizens’ mail whenever he so pleases.  No warrants, no oversight, no checks-n’-balances, or anything like that.

You may think — well, that’s horrible, but that’s Iraq — so why should I care?  I don’t live in Iraq, which is obviously a screw-up backward democracy.

You should care because, well, because I just lied to you.  It wasn’t the leader of Iraq:

President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans’ mail without a judge’s warrant, the Daily News has learned.

The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people’s mail under emergency conditions.

That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.

Bush’s move came during the winter congressional recess and a year after his secret domestic electronic eavesdropping program was first revealed. It 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.

Here’s the Fourth Amendment, for those of you still urinating in your pants because of the 9/11 attacks:

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.

What part of that do you not understand?