W pushes envelope on U.S. spying President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans’ mail without a judge’s warrant, … The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a “signing statement” that declared his right to open people’s mail under emergency conditions. That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it.

Bush’s move came during the winter congressional recess and a year after his secret domestic electronic eavesdropping program was first revealed. It caught Capitol Hill by surprise.

Attorney General Gonzales and Mail Openings There is an “emergency” exception to the warrant requirement. For example, if some bank robbers decide to take hostages and start making demands, a SWAT team can move in without a warrant. When the emergency exception is ordinarily relied upon, the search is done out in the open - so the government’s actions are transparent. The homeowner or business owner knows fairly quickly that agents conducted a search and can bring any abuse to the attention of the news media, the courts, or the legislature. Those “checks” on police power are not in place with respect to mail openings. We just don’t know what may be going on at the post office before we get our mail.