Ford Tri-Motor Mail Passenger plane circa 1930. photo USPS archives. Click for LARGE.
Bush "Signing Statement" Claims Warantless Mail Searches Legal
On December 20, 2007, President Bush signed routine postal legislation. In a "Signing Statement", the President claims Executive Power to search the mail of U.S. citizens inside the United States without a warrant, in direct contradiction of the bill he had just signed.
The Seattle TimesI feel safer already.
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.
"You have to be concerned," a senior U.S. official agreed. "It takes executive-branch authority beyond anything we've ever known."
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."
White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore denied Bush was claiming new authority.
"In certain circumstances — such as with the proverbial 'ticking bomb' — the Constitution does not require warrants for reasonable searches," she said.
Bush, however, cited "exigent circumstances" that could refer to an imminent danger or a long-standing state of emergency.
If you were wondering what Keith Olbermann was going to talk about tonight, we've got you covered... This.
The only real question is, will Keith have video of The President actually wiping his ass with The Constitution, or are those films Top-Secret Presidential -- like the list of people Dick Cheney has shotgunned, then made to apologize?
Reading our mail? Letters from soldiers to their boyfriends and girlfriends. Strategy memos from Fortune 500 Companies to strategic partners including how they'll bid on government jobs. Whistle-blower memos. Letters to criminal defense lawyers, priests and rabbis.
If the U.S. Mail isn't private, next thing you know the Feds will be listening to our damn phone calls! Reading our emails! Restricting our ability to travel or arresting us for trying to get into a political event if we're not assimilated.
Worst. President. Ever.
Update 4:30 PT:
Correction: President Bush issued the signing statement in late 2006, not 2007, as we initially said.
There are actually TWO programs for opening people's mail.
Raw StoryThat's the first, the legal program.
The US postal service approves more than 10,000 requests from US law enforcement each year to record names, addresses and other information from the outside of packages, according to information released through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The warrantless surveillance mail program -- as it is known -- requires only the approval of the US Postal Inspection Service Director, and not a judge.
Since 1998, the inspector has approved more than 97% of requests during criminal inquiries, new documents show. According to USA Today, which filed the request, "In 2004, 2005 and 2006, the most recent year provided, officials granted at least 99.5% of requests."
Officials would not disclose how much mail was monitored in national security or "terror"-related investigations. Under the PATRIOT ACT, those who received letters notifying them that they were being investigated often were gagged from even reporting their being targeted.
Responding to a USA Today request for the national security-related data, "inspection service counsel Anthony Alverno wrote that even revealing the frequency of the surveillance would undermine its effectiveness "to the detriment of the government's national security interests."
Over 10,000 pieces of mail opened without a warrant, and that does NOT include national security investigation. It's just run-of-the-mill criminal inquires.
However that isn't enough for the lawless Bush/Cheney Administration.
Having the ability to search any mail they want 99.5% of the time, not having to report any searches remotely related to national security, and being able to legally issue gag orders to the people searched... All that is not enough.
President Bush claims the executive branch has the legal power to open ANY mail without a warrant.
Raw StoryAs the ACLU said in their press release issued at the time:
The signing statement accompanied H.R. 6407, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which reiterated a prohibition on opening first class mail without a warrant.
"In 1996, the postal regulations were altered to permit the opening of First Class mail without a warrant in narrowly defined cases where the Postal Inspector believes there is a credible threat that the package contains dangerous material like bombs," the ACLU said in a press release at the time. "Instead of referencing the narrow exception in the postal regulations, the president’s signing statement suggests that he is assuming broader authority to open mail without a warrant."
America Civil Liberties Union
“The President’s signing statement raises serious concerns that the Administration’s warrantless surveillance of telephone calls and Internet communications extends to the U.S. mail, as well,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “Given the President's dismal record of violating the privacy rights of Americans, we must question whether he is authorizing the opening of mail without a warrant in violation of the Constitution and laws enacted by Congress.”
The statement accompanied H.R. 6407, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which states, among other things, that First Class Mail cannot be opened without a warrant. Postal regulations have long prohibited the opening of First Class Mail without a warrant, according to the ACLU. In 1996, the postal regulations were altered to permit the opening of First Class Mail without a warrant in cases where the Postal Inspector believes there is a credible threat that the package contains dangerous material like bombs. In passing the new statute, Congress reiterated the express prohibition in existing law against opening First Class Mail without a warrant. The regulation authorizing an exception where there is a credible threat that a package may contain a bomb still exists, but is quite narrow.
Romero said the Bush signing statement does not specify whether there are special circumstances beyond those already established in the law that would allow him to open mail without a warrant and if so, what they may be. For example, the ACLU questioned whether the “exigent circumstances” would include the singling out of mail addressed to or from people on government watch lists, which are notoriously flawed. Such deliberate ambiguity, Romero said, “raises a red flag because of President Bush’s history of asserting broad powers to spy on Americans.”
Romero also noted that the signing statement was issued by President Bush during the Congressional recess and a year after revelations that his administration was claiming authority to secretly wiretap Americans without a warrant.
The ACLU is currently challenging the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping program, which made international headlines when it was disclosed in December 2005. Last August, in a landmark ruling, a federal district judge in Detroit declared the program unconstitutional, saying “There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution.” The Bush administration has appealed that ruling; a hearing before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled for January 31. For more information on that case, ACLU v. NSA, go to www.aclu.org/nsaspying