February 10, 2006

President shouldn’t lift rights: poll

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Most Americans do not believe a
president should be allowed to suspend constitutional
guarantees to fight terrorism, according to a poll released on

The poll, taken for the American Bar Association in the
wake of the controversy generated by U.S. President George W.
Bush's domestic spying program, found the public divided over
whether government eavesdropping on personal communications
could ever be justified.

"While everyone agrees on the need for aggressive
deterrence of terrorism, the disclosure of unchecked domestic
spying by the president is deeply troubling to many Americans,"
Michael Greco, president of the lawyers' group, said in general
of the poll's findings in remarks released at the ABA annual
meeting in Chicago.

"Our founders gave us a government that can act swiftly in
times of danger but also protect our basic freedoms. It's very
encouraging that Americans understand and insist on preserving
that balance."

The Harris Interactive telephone survey of 1,045 adults
taken February 3-6 found that 77 percent have reservations
about the fundamental issues raised by the eavesdropping
controversy, the ABA said in releasing the survey.

Of that group, 52 percent agreed that a president should
never be able to "suspend the constitutional freedoms of people
like you." Another 25 percent said constitutional freedoms
should never be suspended unless authorized by a court or the
U.S. Congress.

Only 18 percent said a president could lift constitutional
guarantees any time if it was necessary to protect the country
and another 5 percent said they did not know or declined to
answer. The poll had an error margin of plus or minus 3 points.

A second poll question asking what would justify government
eavesdropping on personal communications without a search
warrant or court order found 45 percent saying such action
would never be justified.

Another 48 percent were divided, with 22 percent saying it
would be OK based on "an anonymous tip that you may be helping
to plan a terrorist attack in the United States" and 21 percent
saying it would be justified based on "someone's suspicion that
you may be sending money to a terrorist organization."

The domestic eavesdropping program, which Bush authorized
in 2001, allows the National Security Agency to monitor the
international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens to track
people with ties to al Qaeda and other militant groups.

It was a closely held secret until recently. This week the
administration began sharing details of the program with more

The White House has said warrantless eavesdropping is legal
under Bush's Constitutional powers as commander-in-chief and a
congressional authorization for the use of military force
adopted days after the September 11 attacks.

Critics say Bush may have overstepped his authority under
the Constitution and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance

Delegates to the association's meeting plan to vote on
Monday on a policy proposal calling on Bush "to abide by our
constitutional system of checks and balances and respect the
roles of Congress and the judiciary in protecting national
security consistent with the Constitution."

It would also "Oppose any further electronic surveillance
in U.S. for foreign intelligence purposes that does not comply
with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act."