Judge Decries Warrantless Surveillance

The judge who once approved terrorism wiretaps has criticized President Bush’s decision to allow surveillance in some cases without court approval.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said in a speech to the American Library Association that warrantless surveillance erodes civil liberties, the Associated Press reports.

“We have to understand you can fight the war [on terrorism] and lose everything if you have no civil liberties left when you get through fighting the war,” he said.

For seven years, Lamberth led the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which secretly reviews wiretap applications in terrorism and espionage cases.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush allowed the executive branch to wiretap calls between people in United States and overseas terrorism suspects without the FISA court’s approval. In the face of criticism, Bush later changed the policy to require review.

Lamberth apparently saw no need for the order, since the court reacted quickly after the Sept. 11 attacks. While trying to drive out of Washington, D.C., on the day of the attacks, he approved five warrants on his cell phone. He also waived requirements for written submissions and agreed to wiretaps on weekends and in the middle of the night, he said.

Judges are better suited to make the wiretap decision, Lamberth said. “What we have found in the history of our country is that you can’t trust the executive.”

A White House spokesman told Associated Press that the terrorism surveillance program is “specifically designed to be effective without infringing Americans’ civil liberties.”

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