It’s hard for me to imagine a case in which the spying would have to be done in the absence of just cause for doing so. After all, if the FBI or CIA has a good reason to think that someone represents a danger to our national security, I’m relatively sure that they could obtain a search warrant to investigate them.
Now, it might be argued that unless the authorities could spy secretly, they wouldn’t be able to determine whether suspicious activities were taking place. The CIA and FBI need to be able to snoop surreptitiously so they can identify which emails and phone calls are indeed suspicious.
This attitude, though, seems a wee bit too nervous. The fear, I suppose, is that the terrorists could plan their nefarious attacks so quickly, that by the time the evidence warranted a search warrant, it would be too late. I dunno. Maybe the terrorists are a lot cleverer than me, but in my experience, it takes dozens of emails and phone calls just to schedule a night out with friends. The volume of chatter needed to put together a full-scale terrorist attack would be plenty loud and long to warrant a search—and in plenty of time to do something about it.
Maybe our spies just want to avoid the hassle of going before a judge; I can understand that, but it’s still not cool. I hate going to the DMV to renew my car registration, but I do it anyway because it’s the law. Right, Mr. Bush?