Sen. Rand Paul has taken to the Senate floor to blast the nation’s web of surveillance authorities just days before key parts of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire.
Paul, who’s made opposition to government surveillance a key tenet of his quest for the White House, started speaking at about 1:15 p.m. Paul aides said that his speech is a “filibuster” of Republican leaders’ efforts to reauthorize sunsetting parts of the PATRIOT Act, but his speech has a time limit — the chamber is currently working through debate on a trade bill.
Paul defended his staunch opposition to many forms of government spying, saying that many of the programs revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden haven’t helped make the country more secure.
In a campaign email to supporters, posted online by a reporter from Time magazine, Paul said: “I will not rest. I will not back down. I will not yield one inch in this fight so long as my legs can stand.”
Here’s how a Paul campaign aide described the marathon speech: “Sen. Rand Paul has taken the floor of the U.S. Senate to filibuster the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. Senator Paul is a staunch defender of liberty and believes Americans have a right to privacy. The U.S. government has no place conducting these warrantless searches and should focus on gathering intelligence on suspected terrorists and foreign actors.”
Paul likely doesn’t have the votes to stop the extension. But, through his filibuster, he is delaying a vote on it. Through this dramatic gesture, Paul is able to draw attention to the issue and his presidential campaign.
The latest Mr. Paul could possibly speak is until 1 p.m. Thursday, the latest time the Senate could have its next procedural vote on the trade bill. If Mr. Paul stops talking before midnight, he won’t have compelled any delays in that vote’s timing. But he could push it into early Thursday afternoon if he remains on the floor past midnight. In that case, the Senate would start a new “legislative day” at noon, setting up the trade vote one hour later, at 1 p.m.
Asked how long Mr.Paul would speak, his spokeswoman Jillian Lane said, “For an undisclosed amount of time. He will speak until he can no longer speak.”
The Patriot Act provisions that have allowed the National Security Agency to vacuum up Americans’ phone records officially expire on June 1. But the Obama administration says the NSA must begin preparing to end its bulk-telephone-spying program as soon as Friday.
A Justice Department memo circulated among congressional offices Wednesday and obtained by National Journal said Congress needs to fully settle its differences over the expiring spy provisions this week in order to avoid an operational interruption to the NSA’s mass-surveillance program, which was exposed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden two years ago.
“After May 22, 2015, the National Security Agency will need to begin taking steps to wind down the bulk-telephone-metadata program in anticipation of a possible sunset in order to ensure that it does not engage in any unauthorized collection or use of the metadata,” the memo states.
Ted Cruz got a polling bump from his presidential announcement. Marco Rubio saw a measurable boost. Rand Paul got bupkis.
Paul set out to change the trajectory of his presidential campaign on Wednesday, seizing the Senate floor for a marathon speech railing against the renewal of the Patriot Act, hoping to reassert himself as a serious candidate and reestablish his iconoclastic place in an increasingly crowded 2016 field…
If some of Paul’s less traditionally conservative views on Israel, foreign aid, and international entanglement put him of out step with the GOP elites, his strategists believe Paul’s embrace of civil liberties and opposition to domestic spying by the National Security Agency put him more in line with the American people…
The anti-Patriot Act and anti-spying rhetoric mobilizes the limited-government activists who fueled his father’s two presidential bids in 2008 and 2012. (Indeed, Ron Paul issued the rare comment about his son Wednesday, saying, “I urge all Americans who value privacy to stand with Rand until the NSA stands down.”) At the same time, it puts the spotlight on Paul’s efforts to reach the more independent-minded voters he’ll need to succeed in the GOP primary and beyond.
Letting key portions of the Patriot Act expire at the end of the month would make it harder for the FBI to do its job, bureau Director James Comey warned on Wednesday…
For instance, Section 215 of the Patriot Act — which the NSA has relied on to operate its bulk phone records collection program — also allows the FBI to collect a variety of records from hotels, rental car companies and libraries during the course of an investigation.
“If we lose that authority — which I don’t think is controversial with folks — that is a big problem,” Comey said. “Because we will find ourselves in circumstances where we can’t use a grand jury subpoena and we can’t use a national security letter,” he added, referring to two other means of collecting information.
Another provision set to expire at the end of the month would allow the FBI to target lone wolves (who don’t appear to be connected to al Qaeda or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).
Sen. Tom Cotton on Wednesday said reauthorization of the Patriot Act is essential to U.S. national security, dismissing criticism from fellow Republicans that the counterterrorism law is unnecessary and unconstitutional…
“I disagree with Rand on both points, the constitutionality and the effectiveness,” Cotton said. “First the constitutionality: The Supreme Court passed on this a long time ago. There’s no reasonable expectation of privacy in call data. Again, not the content of calls, not even the personally identifiable information about calls, but the call data — the two numbers called, the date and time of the call and the duration of the call, because we willfully turn it over to our telecom provider.”…
“It is a simple fact that this program has helped either detect plots or conduct investigations after the fact. I can’t share all the details with you,” he said. “Can I say — can someone at the FBI or NSA say — this program is a silver bullet that has stopped a terrorist attack against America? I cannot say that. I also can’t say that about traditional human intelligence, or other signals intelligence.”
“That question,” Cotton said, “misunderstands the nature of intelligence. To put it in non-intelligence terms: A symphony doesn’t just have horns or percussion, it takes all of them together to create a harmony. All the tools that our intelligence professional have work together in concert and to deprive them of this critical tool would lead to attacks on the United States.”
As for Paul’s claim that somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of the public would do away with the NSA’s surveillance programs if they had the chance, it’s hard to find recent data that that supports this assertion that does not result from surveys commissioned by the ACLU. A recent Pew Research Center poll paints a far more complex picture of how the public views the NSA’s programs in a world that is now characterized by a resurgent radical Islamist threat and is routinely imperiled by self-radicalized, ISIS-inspired lone wolves.
While 61 percent of those polled in a survey released in March say they are “less confident the surveillance efforts are serving the public interest,” it’s far from clear that this majority of respondents would do away with the NSA’s programs entirely. 82 percent of those polled are comfortable with the government monitoring the communications of suspected terrorists. Another 60 percent are unperturbed by the prospect of monitoring the communications of elected U.S. officials and foreign leaders. A narrow majority, 54 percent, say that they are not uncomfortable with federal officials monitoring the communications of non-U.S. citizens.
“Yet, 57% say it is unacceptable for the government to monitor the communications of U.S. citizens,” Pew’s release read. “At the same time, majorities support monitoring of those particular individuals who use words like ‘explosives’ and ‘automatic weapons’ in their search engine queries (65% say that) and those who visit anti-American websites (67% say that).”
The bill that the House passed last week, the USA Freedom Act, would do little to protect Americans’ privacy while hampering the work of our intelligence agencies…
The House bill’s main aim is to replace the National Security Agency’s metadata program, one of the many operations Edward Snowden exposed, which allows the NSA to gather and analyze not the content of phone calls but the numbers involved, their locations, and their duration. The USA Freedom Act’s replacement program would leave this data with telephone companies, and allow the NSA to collect it (from each company) only when it brings a specific request, for a specific investigation, to a surveillance-court judge. The NSA could then begin collecting some relevant data, but not nearly as much as it could in the past, for the next 90 days. It would be able to analyze past data closely related to the investigation, too, but of course could use only whatever data the phone companies had kept on their own…
The provision that has been used to authorize the metadata program, Section 215, gave intelligence agencies new and useful powers that the House’s so-called reform will seriously diminish. The NSA’s program allows it to search through large amounts of data for patterns and connections like the ones that might have turned up before 9/11, when the hijackers were a couple of degrees removed from known terror suspects. The gathering of bulk metadata also allows intelligence analysts to track the organization and funding of terror networks in a way that would be much more tedious, if not outright impossible, under the USA Freedom Act. The president has made only a half-hearted case for these powers, but given their obvious utility and vanishingly small effect on privacy, Congress ought to renew them…
Our government’s most important duty is protecting innocent American lives, and it has done a fine job of that since September 11. With terror rising, not receding, around the globe, it is not time to start taking away the tools the intelligence community needs to keep up the good work.
I just see a replay of the 1970s here. The post-9/11 overreaction will be “corrected” with an equally great overreaction in the other direction — and then, after a major terrorist mass-casualty attack, we’ll all go through the same process of overreacting the other way again.
I think it’s important that this data be available, somewhere, in the case of a Ticking Time Bomb scenario. Which I think is a completely plausible scenario, and not some kind of wild fiction, as the many unimaginative dullards on the left believe it is…
So I support Paul’s filibuster of the Patriot Act. Of course, establishment types like Mitch McConnell support renewing the Patriot Act, and adding in explicit authority to do that which Obama has previously simply assumed, because of course Republicans want the government to be as big and powerful as their Democrat counterparts do.
And I support the flawed USA FREEDOM bill, as atrocious as that stupid JV PR branding effort is, as a reasonable compromise.