Bush Signs Away Our Civil Liberties

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It’s hard to imagine anything more undemocratic than a presidential signing statment — wherein the commander-in-chief appends language to the bill he’s just signed exempting the executive branch from following various of its dictates — but the president’s latest is truly an Orwellian masterwork. Appended to the innocous sounding Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which the president signed into law before the holidays, the statement gives the Bush adminstration the authority to open your mail without first obtaining a warrant under “exigent circumstances.” As the New York Daily News reports today, “that claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed.”

Most of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act deals with mundane reform measures. But it also explicitly reinforced protections of first-class mail from searches without a court’s approval.

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.”

Bush cited as examples the need to “protect human life and safety against hazardous materials and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.”

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore denied Bush was claiming any 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” which could refer to an imminent danger or a longstanding state of emergency.

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