McCain On Wiretapping

Ken AshfordElection 2008, Wiretapping & SurveillanceLeave a Comment

It’s hard to understand John McCain.  He keeps allying himself with the Bush agenda, despite the fact that Bush is polling as the most unliked president in modern history [UPDATE:  Apparently, I was more right than I thought.  USA Today reports that John McCain "won’t try to separate himself from a weakened President Bush or his unpopular handling of the war in Iraq to try to win the general election against Barack Obama, who has made opposition to the war a focus of the Democratic campaign."]

This is particularly stupid:

WASHINGTON — A top adviser to Senator John McCain says Mr. McCain believes that President Bush’s program of wiretapping without warrants was lawful, a position that appears to bring him into closer alignment with the sweeping theories of executive authority pushed by the Bush administration legal team.

Nice one, McCain.  You just lost the libertarian vote.  In fact, you lost lots of votes:

U.S. voters overwhelmingly oppose key elements of the Bush administration’s proposed wiretapping legislation, according to a new poll commissioned by the ACLU.

“Large majorities across almost every demographic subgroup of American voters,” wrote pollsters The Mellman Group in a memo to the American Civil Liberties Union, “oppose warrantless wiretaps, oppose blanket warrants, and oppose amnesty for telecommunication companies that may have broken the law.”

“As a result,” the memo says, “members (of Congress) who stand in defense of constitutional rights have little to fear from their constituents.”

Sixty-one percent of voters favor requiring the government to get a warrant from a court before wiretapping the conversations U.S. citizens have with people in other countries, with an outright majority of voters, 51 percent, “strongly” supporting the requirement, the poll of 1,000 likely 2008 general-election voters found.

Similar percentages opposed “blanket” or “basket” warrants, under which surveillance of categories of Americans would be allowed.

And by the way, look where McCain was on this issue of retroactive immunity for the telecoms:

In 2005, at least, McCain was in favor of letting the courts decide whether AT&T and other telecos violated the law.

Last fall, while preparing our Tech Voter’s Guide, we asked McCain point-blank whether he would support the bill (S.2248) providing retroactive immunity. On November 30, 2007 McCain sent us this response via e-mail:

Every effort in this struggle and other efforts must be done according to American principles and the rule of law. When companies provide private records of Americans to the government without proper legal subpoena, warrants, or other legal orders, their heart may be in the right place, but their actions undermine our respect for the law.

I am also a strong supporter of protecting the privacy of Americans. The issues raised by S.2248, and the events and actions by all parties that preceded it, reach to the core of our principles. They merit careful and deliberate consideration, fact-finding, and exploration of options. That process should be allowed to proceed before drawing conclusions that may prove to be premature.

If retroactive immunity passes, it should be done with explicit statements that this is not a blessing, there should be oversight hearings to understand what happened, and Congress should include provisions that ensure that Americans’ private records will not be dealt with like that again.

I hate to get cocky, but if this is how it’s going to be with McCain — flip-flopping to the least popular position — this is going to be a blowout election.