Bush Uses Signing Statement to Legalize Warrantless Searches of US Citizens' Mail
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 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.I feel safer already.