The topic of debate between O’Reilly and Walters focused on whether the U.K.’s use of wiretap surveillance should serve as an example that aggressive surveillance is an effective method of tracking terrorist activities, and, therefore, the Bush administration should be given carte blanche to conduct covert investigations into the private activities of American citizens.
Under the NSA program, agents can wiretap international and domestic phone calls without court authorization. The administration contends that the president's wartime powers give him authority to run an electronic surveillance program without a warrant or Justice Department certification.
But civil libertarians, such as Walters, argue that wiretapping compromises the essential freedoms of the American people and has been egregiously misused by the Bush administration.
“Right now the government is trying to use this terrorism bust as a basis to argue that we need stronger surveillance and security laws,” Walters told XBIZ. “The concern is, at what point are we going to cut off the government’s power grab here and recognize that we are losing cherished constitutional rights on a daily basis that we are never going to get back?”
O’Reilly argued that the U.K.’s flexibility to change probable cause to reasonable suspicion in cases of suspected terrorism have helped them more successfully apprehend terrorist suspects and that the U.S. should follow the same procedure, regardless of the corrosive effect on constitutional rights.
Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bush authorized NSA to conduct surveillance of certain telephone calls of U.S. citizens without obtaining a warrant from a court. But according to many civil rights advocates, the government has not complied with the basic surveillance tools it has been legally given and instead has gone far beyond the scope of NSA rules.
To compound the issue even further, it was discovered in December that several major telecommunications companies were providing the Bush administration with access to their telephone lines for purported investigations into terrorist activities.
A federal panel of judges recently consolidated 17 lawsuits throughout the U.S. filed against telephone companies accused of assisting the government in monitoring Americans' communications without warrants.
“We all want to feel safe, and we all want to feel secure,” Walters said. “But our desire for that security is quickly eclipsing our desire for freedom and liberty. Those are the principals on which our country was founded. There is a greater chance of drowning in your swimming pool than being the victim of a terrorist attack.”