NSA Warrantless Wiretapping Timeline

NSA Warrantless Wiretapping Timeline

Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is enacted
“Theright of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers,and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not beviolated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause,supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing theplace to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”(1)

National Security Agency (NSA) Founded
The newly formed NSA, part of the Defense Department, is charged withacquiring information from overseas sources in order to protect theUnited States from her enemies. (2)

Congress Limits Wiretapping
The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act is passed by Congress,mandating that all wiretapping be performed only after a court orderis obtained. However, an exception is created allowing thePresident to use warrantless wiretapping to respond to nationalsecurity issues. (3)

Congressional Church Hearings
A Senate committee on intelligence activities, commonly known as theChurch Committee, reveals serious federal abuses of surveillancepowers, including against civil rights leaders, Vietnam Warprotesters, union advocates, and other political activists. TheCommittee’s final report condemns these abuses as excessive,undemocratic, and unconstitutional. The report also suggests thatCongress create rules limiting intelligence gathering tactics. (4)(5)

President Jimmy Carter Limits Electronic Surveillance of U.S. Citizens
President Jimmy Carter issues Executive Order12036, which states that “No agency within the IntelligenceCommunity shall engage in any electronic surveillance directedagainst a United States person abroad or designed to intercept acommunication sent from, or intended for receipt within, the UnitedStates except as permitted by the procedures established pursuant tosection 2-201.” (6)
Congress Passes Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)
In response to the Church Committee’s report,Congress passes FISA, which authorizes surveillance of foreignpowers or their agents, and creates a judicial system to oversee theprogram and ensure that it is only used in response to seriousnational security issues. It is opposed by civil libertarians on thegrounds that it violates the Fourth Amendment, amid concerns thatwarrants may be issued without adequate proof and against Americancitizens. The law eventually causes the NSA to alter its rules ondomestic intelligence gathering and concentrate on foreign spying.(7)(8)

CALEA Requires Telecommunications Providers to Give Government Access toElectronic Records
Congress enacts the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA),which sets standards for how telecommunications providers willprovide wiretapping information to the government. It requiresproviders to install new wiretapping devices on their phone systems,and ensures that the government will have free access tocommunications information. (9)

January 20
George W. Bush Inaugurated as the 43rd President of the United States; JohnAshcroft becomes Attorney General
George W. Bush officiallytakes office as President, and names John Ashcroft, a former senatorfrom Missouri, as his new attorney general. Republicans supportAshcroft as a nominee intimately familiar with the workings of the USgovernment and its policies. However, numerous civil libertiesgroups, including the ACLU, express concern over previous attempts atcurtailing First Amendment rights and other freedoms while Senator.

September 11
Terrorist Attacks on the World TradeCenter in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
Four airplanes on the East Coast are hijacked mid-flight and aimed atimportant financial and government buildings. Two crash into the twintowers of the World Trade Center in New York, and one crashes intothe Pentagon just outside of Washington, D.C. Another airplane,apparently headed for Washington, D.C., is downed in a field inPennsylvania.

September 25
John Yoo, Former Administration Official, Claims President Has WidespreadAnti-Terrorism Powers
John Yoo, formerly from the Department of Justice’s Office of LegalCounsel, writes a memo claiming that the President has the authorityto approve anti-terrorism tactics, including warrantless wiretapping,in times where he or she feels that it is necessary for nationalsecurity interests. (10)(11)

October 11
Rep.Nancy Pelosi Asks NSA Director If Wiretapping Program HadPresidential Authorization
Representative Nancy Pelosi sends a letter to Michael Hayden, director of the NSA,inquiring as to whether wiretapping programs used by the NSA underFISA have presidential approval and, if so, to what extent. (12)

October 26
Congress Passes the USA PATRIOT Act, Amending FISA
The USA PATRIOT Act is passed by Congress, giving the government moreleeway in obtaining wiretapping warrants. Supporters of the law claimthat it will allow the government to respond quicker to terroristthreats, but opponents fear that it will be used inappropriately and,ultimately, be ineffective. (13)(14)

Bush Issues Executive Order Allowing Warrantless Wiretapping
President Bush, through a secret executive order, authorizes the NSA, whichalready has confidential surveillance program in place, to wiretapcommunications between foreign citizens suspected of having links toterrorist groups and individuals on American soil. This wiretappingis allowed without any warrant. Communications between people locatedin the US still requires a warrant. (15)(16)(17)

July 17
Bush Administration Discloses Wiretapping Program to Congress
Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials give limitedinformation about the warrantless wiretapping program to the heads ofthe Senate and House intelligence committees. Sen. John Rockefellersends a letter to Cheney detailing his concerns over the program andquestions whether the program is legal. (18)

February 3
John Ashcroft Leaves Post as Attorney General, Replaced by AlbertoGonzales
On November 9, 2004, amid increasing outcry over his controversialpolicies, John Ashcroft resigns from his position of AttorneyGeneral. This resignation becomes effective on February 3, 2005, whenthe Senate confirms Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel, as the newattorney general. (19)

December 6
Bush Tries to Dissuade the New York Timesfrom Publishing Warrantless Wiretapping Story
President Bush invites the publisher of the New York Times,Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., to the Oval Office, and tries to convince the papernot to run a story about the NSA warrantless wiretapping programwhich began in early 2002 and is still secret. (20)

December 16
New York Times Discloses Warrantless Wiretapping Program
The New York Times publishes a front-page article revealingdetails about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, despitePresident Bush’s requests that it not be revealed to the public. Itis later disclosed that the newspaper had known about the program forover a year. (21)(22)

December 17
Bush Supports Wiretapping Program in Press Conference
President Bush speaks on national television in defense of the USA PATRIOT Act,which is up for renewal, and claims that the New York Timesprinted the NSA wiretapping story illegally. He states that heauthorized the NSA program shortly after 9/11, in accordance with hispowers as President. In addition, he says that the program isoverseen by various government agencies and is in compliance with theConstitution. Furthermore, he asserts that the program is vital tonational security, and points to communications between the US-basedSeptember 11 hijackers and Al Qaeda members overseas as evidence thatthe program is essential to the security of the United States. (23)

December 22
Department of Justice Defends NSA Program
The Department of Justice writes to the Congressional intelligencecommittees, saying that the NSA warrantless wiretapping program islegal. It also states that President Bush determined after September11 that there was a need for quicker detection of terrorist threats,and that FISA was not fast enough. (24)

December 24
The New York Times Reveals NSA Wiretapping Methods
The New York Times publishes an article detailing the variousmethods, including data mining, used by the NSA to performwiretapping, which had yet to be acknowledged by the Bushadministration. It tells how the NSA approached telecommunicationscompanies and asked them to keep records of international telephoneand Internet communication patterns that were deemed suspicious. Allof the wiretapping is done without requesting a warrant from theForeign Intelligence Surveillance Court. (25)

January 31
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Sues AT&T for Providing Customer Information to the NSA
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties advocacygroup, files a lawsuit against AT&T, alleging that the company’scooperation with the NSA in data mining customers’ telephone andInternet records breaches the privacy of their customers and istherefore illegal. On May 15, the government files a secret brief, towhich only AT&T and the EFF were allowed very limited access,asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that continuing thecase would reveal state secrets. (26)

March 9
President Bush Re-signs the USA Patriot Act
After the original USA PATRIOT Act’s original term runs out, Congressreauthorizes the act and makes most of its provisions permanent.President Bush signs the new version of the act, but also issues asigning statement, which exempts him from reporting when governmentagencies use some of the powers described in the law. (27)(28)

May 11
USA Today Reveals Telephone Companies Have Provided Phone Records tothe NSA since 2001
A USA Today article describes how the nation’s largesttelecommunications companies, since shortly after the September 11thattacks, have been secretly providing their customers’ domesticcalling records to the NSA, which is using them to investigateAmericans’ calling patterns. This marks the first time that purelydomestic calls are revealed as being subject to NSA wiretapping.AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth are implicated in the program, butQwest states that it has refused to give any information to thegovernment. (29)

May 27
Michael Hayden Confirmed as Head of the CIA
Major General Michael Hayden, Director of the NSA from 1999 to 2005, isconfirmed as the new head of the CIA, a civilian agency, despiteconcerns over his military status and ties to the NSA’s potentiallyillegal wiretapping program. (30)

July 17
AttorneyGeneral Alberto Gonzales Reveals Administration Blocking Oversight ofNSA Program
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales states that President Bush has barredDepartment of Justice lawyers from gaining security clearances andaccess to necessary documents and interviews when attempting toinvestigate the NSA wiretapping program. (31)

August 17
US District Court Judge Finds NSA Program to be Unconstitutional
In the case ACLU v. NSA, Federal District Court Judge Anna DiggsTaylor finds that the President does not have the power to authorizethe NSA warrantless wiretapping program under either the Iraq Warresolution or the Constitution, and thus deeming the programunconstitutional. The program continues unabated as the governmentappeals her ruling. (32)(33)(34)

September 28
House Passes Bill Authorizing Warrantless Wiretapping
The House of Representatives passes a bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Heather Wilson,authorizing the Bush administration to conduct warrantlesswiretapping on the condition that it occurs after the House andSenate intelligence committees have been notified and the peoplebeing investigated have been named. The bill still allowed for thecircumventing of FISA. Democrats accuse the administration ofattempting to justify their past actions violating citizens’ civilliberties. The bill never passes the Senate. (35)

November 7
Midterm Elections
The entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate faceelection, amidst growing concerns over the Iraq war and otherscandals. The Democrats gain control of both legislative chambers andpromise sweeping reforms and oversight of all government activities.(36)(37)(38)