President Bush claims he can open Americans' mail without a search warrant. Now the ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn more about the government's warrantless mail searches.
The ACLU has also asked that Congress to exercise its oversight function and require the Postal Service to publicly report the annual number of such searches.
U.S. law allows inspectors to open first-class mail only with a warrant or when there is credible evidence the package containes dangerous material such as a bomb. A law passed by Congress in 2006 reiterated that privacy protection. But when he signed the law in December, Bush expanded his power to include "exigent circumstances" and "the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection."
"The President has a dismal record of violating Americans' privacy rights through warrantless monitoring of our phone calls and Internet use, without explaining why the surveillance is necessary," said ACLU/SC Executive Director Ramona Ripston. "We have serious concerns that Americans' personal mail is now being opened without a warrant or their knowledge."
The ACLU's FOIA request seeks to uncover the number of times mail has been opened, whether people who are searched are notified after the fact, and what policies govern the opening of mail, so Americans can learn if the government is protecting their rights. 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.
The ACLU is currently challenging the Bush administration's illegal wiretapping program, disclosed in December 2005. Last August, 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, and a hearing is scheduled for January 31.