Earlier this week, Judge James Robertson resigned from a special court that issues warrants for electronic surveillance and searches in terrorism cases, shortly after the New York Times reported that the National Security Agency had intercepted hundreds of phone calls and e-mail messages by American citizens without seeking permission from the court. Robertson was protesting President George W. Bush's domestic spying policy, according to the Washington Post. Bypassing the special court may be an impeachable offense, but Bush and his Attorney General have claimed it was a legal measure to track down terrorists quickly after Sept. 11.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA, was set up in the 1970s to rubber-stamp secret surveillance of spies and terrorists within America's borders. The court is highly secret and tends to help federal officers do their work; but it needs to hear "probable cause" before it issues a warrant. An emergency provision even allows warrantless eavesdropping for 72 hours in certain cases.
Robertson, according to his friends, worried about the ramifications of fast-and-loose domestic spying in the name of fighting terrorism. "He would not want the process to be compromised," a lawyer friend of Robertson's told the Los Angeles Times. Tainted or illegally-gathered information -- lacking a judge's authorization -- can't be used to prosecute terrorist suspects in an American court.