As Yglesias says, "The End of Probable Cause." WaPo reports:
The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual's Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.
The administration wants to add just four words -- "electronic communication transactional records" -- to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge's approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user's browser history. It does not include, the lawyers hasten to point out, the "content" of e-mail or other Internet communication.
This power would be conferred upon the same FBI whose agents have "cheated on tests on how to legally conduct domestic surveillance cases." Maybe this is just the administration's way of making sure these people won't have to cheat on future tests--not they won't have to worry about the pesky details of conducting domestic surveillance legally, since they won't have to worry about warrants.
Matt raises the question of "misused work resources . . . for personal purposes." The larger concern, and anybody who lived through Nixon and is old enough to remember it will share it, is the very real potential for the systematic misuse of information for political purposes. It's happened before and will happen again, and our government should at least have to go through the niceties of taking actual legal steps in order to spy on us. As Matt also points out, it's not that hard. All it takes is "some kind of cause—probable cause, let’s say—to suspect someone of involvement in terrorism, [is to] just get a warrant."
Probable cause and warrants. The stuff of democracy. The stuff, in fact, of the Constitution, the fourth amendment to be precise.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.