There was a good, brief summary of past abuses of wiretapping power in yesterday’s LA Times. For a detailed, documented account see David Cole and James X. Dempsey’s Terrorism and the Constitution.
From Julian Sanchez in the LA Times op-ed section:
But focusing on the privacy of the average Joe in this way obscures the deeper threat that warrantless wiretaps poses to a democratic society. Without meaningful oversight, presidents and intelligence agencies can — and repeatedly have — abused their surveillance authority to spy on political enemies and dissenters.
The original FISA law was passed in 1978 after a thorough congressional investigation headed by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) revealed that for decades, intelligence analysts — and the presidents they served — had spied on the letters and phone conversations of union chiefs, civil rights leaders, journalists, antiwar activists, lobbyists, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices — even Eleanor Roosevelt and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The Church Committee reports painstakingly documented how the information obtained was often “collected and disseminated in order to serve the purely political interests of an intelligence agency or the administration, and to influence social policy and political action.”