Rand Paul: No Surveillance Debate Means a No Vote on Spending Bill

Senators demand discussion of protections for Americans against unwarranted snooping.


Sens. Rand Paul and Ron Wyden
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said this morning he will not vote for a year-end continuing resolution to keep federal government going if it permanently reauthorizes federal surveillance regulations without strong protections to shield Americans from snooping.

Paul was one of a bipartisan but small group of senators who gathered at a press conference today with privacy activists from both the left (the American Civil Liberties Union) and the right (FreedomWorks). The coalition hopes to keep lawmakers from quietly renewing surveillance authorities under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments without any public debate.

"I absolutely oppose permanent reauthorization," Paul said. "Any reauthorization has to be paired with more oversight, not less."

On hand alongside Paul were Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and Paul's regular across-the-aisle partner in fighting unwarranted surveillance, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

"There has not been a moment of open debate," Wyden said. "The administration is actually going backward on transparency."

FISA, as its name suggests, is supposed to be used to keep tabs on foreign subjects of interest, be they potential terror threats or rival governments. Because the targets are not Americans and not on American soil, they do not get the full protection of the Fourth Amendment; the surveillance is all handled secretly through a special FISA court.

But over time, thanks in part to whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, it has become clear that the FBI and the National Security Agency (NSA) have also been using these powers to snoop on American citizens and using the information gathered for domestic purposes. All of this is happening without warrants and without our knowledge, bypassing the Fourth Amendment entirely. We do not even know how many Americans have had their data or private communications collected by the FBI and NSA, and the NSA has backtracked on a promise to give an estimate.

At the end of the year, the powers granted under Section 702 expire. The senators who spoke this morning have been pushing for stronger protections against unwarranted surveillance before agreeing to renew the law. But with the timer ticking down, and with a host of competing bills that have been introduced and passed out of committee with no discussion, it's not entirely clear how it's even possible for a debate to happen before Section 702 expires.

For a look at the bills, check out my analysis here. That went up a month ago; since then, one additional reauthorization bill has been quickly introduced and passed through the House Intelligence Committee that would require warrants in some cases but has a whole host of exceptions that would allow warrant-free domestic surveillance of Americans.

Lee raised the possibility of kicking the can down the road but not very far, sggesting a very short renewal to allow for debate about what Section 702 should look like.

The problem is that the GOP leadership and the White House clearly do not want this debate. They want to renew Section 702—and perhaps even to make it permanent—with no changes or even with expanded surveillance authorities. The resistance from folks like Paul and Wyden probably increases the chances that they'll try to sneak reauthorization through in a spending resolution.

So that Saturday Night Live Jeff Sessions holiday-themed "Elf on the Shelf" joke is apt, though not in the way the show intended. Rest assured that even if Sessions is acting like he has no idea what's going on in the White House, his Department of Justice and the NSA want to be able to keep track of what's going on in your house.

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  1. “and Paul’s regular across-the-aisle partner in fighting unwarranted surveillance, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)…..”

    …..unless a Democrat is president. He’s about as reliable a defender of individual rights under a Democratic administration as the ACLU- muted and whispering his dissent.

    1. I’m not saying Wyden’s perfect, but I’m pretty sure his collaboration with Paul on this issue goes back well before Trump took office.

      1. Actually it doesn’t. When Rand did his filibuster Wyden didn’t support it initially. He did, however, threaten, but never followed through, on opposing reauthorization of the Patriot Act when Republicans controlled the Senate. He’s a hack, regardless of what Fonzi says. Like Cruz who cared about this stuff when a Democrat was in office.

        1. He’s talked about reforming surveillance, but demurred to the wishes of the administration when it was a Democrat. Now, suddenly, he stuffed a sock in his pants and declares he has balls now.

          It’s like the ACLU that would quietly release reports critical of the Obama administration. Without the hoopla that they employ now

          1. Wyden’s vote will count at this time no matter what his motivations are now or were in the past.

      2. Well spoken. NOBODY is perfect, & in today’s disgustingly unpatriotic & divisive hyper-partisan political divide, ANY kind of effort at bi-partisanship deserves to be acknowledged & applauded.

  2. I applaud euphemism alt text.

  3. Permanently authorize?

    Hells bells.

  4. Speaker Ryan making mouth noises about history and freedom. I still think he doesn’t look quite right without a propeller hat.

    1. Any hat probably bursts into flames when it touches his devil hair.

  5. Rand Paul is 5′ 6″. Thanks for that awkward photo. I knew he was short, but that’s well into the left end of the bell curve. I don’t want say much, just that I was surprised. Tough guy. I could blink-side him too with a full field tackle over a grass clippings dispute. Did that story go down the memory hole.

    1. He’s 1 std dev. below the mean according to a quick search.

      But that also means he is over a foot shorter than I am, which means he is unfit for office.

    2. Well, look at his dad. Ron Paul definitely comes across as a guy whose summer job in college was baking cookies in a tree.

    3. I could blink-side him too with a full field tackle over a grass clippings dispute.

      5’6″, 150# you tackle headlong as long as you aren’t similarly bean-pole afflicted the abuse will add up all on it’s own. Save the blind-siding for they guys that are 6’8″, 240#, and run the 40 in 4.5s. Those are the guys you want listening for footsteps and looking over their shoulders before they permanently reauthorize spying bills.

  6. Any reauthorization has to be paired with more oversight, not less.

    Dammit Rand, you shoulda quit after the first clause/sentence. Paying people to spy on the spies doesn’t make for less spying! (Still less of a fair-weather libertarian than most anyone else with an R or D after their name).

  7. My grandmother, God rest her soul, is going to be eating cat food because Rand Paul doesn’t get his way? Are we even going to hear about it, or is the news of the GOP’s latest going to be throttled out of existence?

    1. No we’re not going to hear about your grandmother eating cat food. Her story is back at the end of the line behind the stories of grandmothers of oppressed minorities, gay grandmothers, transmothers and grandmothers who once got a short tip after waiting on Hitler…errr…sorry, Joe McCarthy! Of course they were all eating cat food before Rand Paul broke the government, but that was because capitalism.

  8. This is the sort of bi-partisanship we need.

  9. Not covered by the 4th amendment? Sorry, but the Constitution prohibits the federal government from violating EVERY person’s inalienable rights, not just domestic citizens. The word “citizen” is hardly used in the Constitution, and as far as I recall, only applies to privileges (not rights) like voting and becoming President.
    PEOPLE have inalienable rights which the founders prohibit the government from violating.
    There’s nothing in there that says they can violate rights geographically, either. If we let them snoop on anybody they’ll snoop on everybody. Don’t forget they have drones, for Pete’s sake!
    If somebody really wants to advocate for violating the rights of anyone, they need to amend the authorization. However, I don’t think allowing a majority or a special interest group (American voters) to violate the rights of any human is safe to do. It’s a slippery slope when we allow them to pick and choose who gets violated, besides causing problems when Americans abroad get caught in a war of tit-for-tat.

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