Power Tends to Corrupt

I hate when I have to agree with Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy.

But the Justice Department has put me in that uncomfortable position. Again.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has abused the already-overreaching Patriot Act to snoop into the personal details of Americans, according to a scathing report released yesterday. The Bureau illegally used national security letters, which allow it to obtain customers’ records from telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit companies, and other businesses. The Washington Post reports that, on 739 occasions, the FBI exploited secret contracts with three telephone companies to obtain records related to 3,000 phone numbers after asserting in most instances that the records were needed because of “exigent circumstances” and affirming that requests for subpoenas had already been sent to U.S. attorney’s offices. These assurances were lies, according to the report: The letters were mostly used in “non-emergency circumstances”; no documentation existed of a connection to “pending national security investigations”, and “subpoenas requesting the information had not been provided to the U.S. Attorney’s Office before the letters were sent.” (Or maybe they just got lost as the attorneys packed up their offices.)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called the situation “unacceptable”.

Somehow, I don’t feel much better.

Sen. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “National security letters are a powerful tool, and when they are misused, they can do great harm to innocent people.”

Ranking Republican Specter said that that Congress may “impose statutory requirements and perhaps take away some of the authority which we’ve already given to the FBI, since they appear not to be able to know how to use it.”

“How could this happen?” FBI Director Robert Mueller rhetorically asked yesterday, displaying a frightening lack of understanding of human nature and the reasons for Constitutional govenment.

It could happen because people are sinners and power tends to corrupt sinners. That’s why we have a Constitution–to protect the people from power of government officials and bureaucrats. It’s time we started to respect it again.

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