The media did a bad job of explaining what was at stake during Congress’s debate on warrentless wiretaps. Philip K. Bobbitt does a good job in-of all places-the New York Times:

“All sides agree that some legislative fix is required because of changes in telecommunications technology. Where once it made sense to require warrants when one party to a foreign conversation was in America, this ceased to be the case when American routers became the transit points for foreign conversations that might or might not involve a person in the United States.

“Once linear, analog, point-to-point communication has been replaced by the disaggregated packets of the Internet, two people talking to each other in Europe could find their conversations going through American switches. It also became difficult to determine the true origin of any communication that was routed through the United States. If a terrorism suspect in Pakistan is having conversations with someone on a computer with a New York Internet protocol address via a chat room run by an Internet service provider in London, where exactly is the intelligence being collected? If the answer is the United States simply because the servers are here, of what possible relevance could that be to the protection of the rights of Americans?

“Amending the statute to focus on protecting American people rather than an American address would not have dealt with a larger and more profound problem. The change in the global communications infrastructure is both a driver and a consequence of a change in the nature of conflict. The end of the cold war was brought about in part because of technologies that empowered the individual and whetted people’s appetites for more control over their lives. These same developments also empower networks of terrorists, and the war they will soon be capable of waging has little in common with the industrial warfare of the 20th century. Accordingly, foreign intelligence tasks will also change.”