NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Many Legal Procedures Available For Fighting Terrorism

October 4, 2001

To a degree that few Americans -- and not even some lawyers -- realize, federal law as it stands now gives enormous leeway to the government in combating would-be mass murderers.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable or warrantless searches -- which covers everything from a pat-down to a wire on a computer.

But here are a few of the exceptions that make the Bill of Rights less of an impediment than many people believe:

  • The Constitution limits what the government, not businesses or private citizens can do -- meaning that airlines or sports-stadium operators have much greater scope to act for security purposes.
  • Investigators can, in the space of a half hour, get warrants to tap phones or search homes -- or do so without the warrant altogether in a genuine emergency.
  • In 1979, the Supreme Court decreed that police don't need a warrant to record what phone numbers a suspect calls or receives -- although not the conversation itself.
  • The Bill of Rights does not stop Congress from being arbitrary in picking countries that can send us immigrants -- or the Immigration and Naturalization Service from excluding suspected terrorists.

There have been more than 20,000 requests for wiretap orders since 1968 -- with only 28 requests refused through 1996.

There have been more that 10,000 requests for secret terrorism and security-related wiretaps -- and none has been denied.

Source: Brigid McMenamin, "Land of the Free," Forbes, October 15, 2001.


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