Rand Paul filibusters NSA surveillance in Congress

U.S. Senator Rand Paulю (Reuters/Brian Snyder)
United States Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) vows to filibuster any attempt in Congress to extend the eavesdropping powers provided to the government through the US Patriot Act before they expire at the end of the month.

Sen. Paul began speaking out against government surveillance on the floor of the Senate at around 1:18 pm ET on Wednesday, saying “I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.”

Provisions in the anti-terrorism law, passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, are set to sunset on June 1 unless Congress extends them before then. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Senate majority leader, has advocated for extending the National Security Agency’s ability to conduct such surveillance in certain cases while an alternative solution is sought.

As the end-of-month deadline nears, Senator Paul on Wednesday said he would launch a filibuster to ensure the spy powers are not reauthorized.

"We should be in open rebellion saying enough is enough. We're not going to take it anymore,” Paul said on the Senate floor on Wednesday around one hour into his address.

Earlier in the day, the Department of Justice circulated a memo on Capitol Hill warning lawmakers to act swiftly and be prepared to pull the plug on Sec. 215 of the Patriot Act this week. The memo said this was necessary in order to avoid complications that could arise in the event the program is not renewed before the end of the month. A federal appeals court ruled two weeks ago that Sec. 215 does not authorize the National Security Agency to collect phone records in bulk, contrary to the government’s current interpretation, dealing the biggest blow yet to the previously secret surveillance program first exposed to the public in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

During his diatribe, Paul said that he doesn’t fault the NSA as a whole, but rather its eavesdropping programs that permit the government to collect information on entire groups of people without reasonable suspicion or warrant.

“I’m for the NSA. I want the NSA to do surveillance that will help to protect us from attack. Not only am I for surveillance, I am for looking as deep as it takes. But I want some suspicion. I want suspicion that this person, this John Doe, that there is some evidence. You don’t have to prove that they’re guilty, you just have to have something that points towards them being suspicious.”

The Senator from Kentucky took particular issue with the bulk collection of telephone records, emails, and even credit card data. “It should worry us that the government has access to all of our records, all of the time,” he said.

Paul also brought up concerns that spying is already causing “economic punishment” for major US software companies, with foreign users demanding increased encryption. Furthermore, putting in “back-door” access for US spying agencies also opens up software to attacks by hackers.

There is a danger that we will destroy great American companies by forcing this surveillance into their products,” Paul said.

The Bill of Rights was meant for everyone, not just special people, Paul warned. Continuing the bulk surveillance programs that systematically violate the letter and spirit of the Bill of Rights would lead to what former NSA official and whistleblower Bill Binney called “turnkey totalitarianism”.

If you’re not concerned that democracy can produce bad people, you’re not thinking this through,” Paul warned.

In 2013, Sen. Paul led a nearly 13-hour filibuster to raise objection to the US government’s use of weaponized drones.