So here’s the situation: It looks like the United States’ National Security Agency (the NSA) is keeping electronic tabs on everyone, all the time. Analyzing phone call records, internet usage, emails, online purchases; really anything you can think of doing on a smart phone, computer or tablet, the NSA is tracking…spying, that is.
All of these revelations – made public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who has since fled the U.S. and been charged with espionage – have been a topic most politicians are not eager to talk about.
But Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been one of the few direct, concise voices on this issue. The NSA spying is unconstitutional, and Snowden – who is now at an undisclosed location in Russia on temporary asylum – will ultimately be judged by history.
While many were quick to take sides in the debate, Paul hit the pause button.
“I think it’s a complicated issue,” Paul said on “CBS This Morning on June 11. “I think when people choose civil disobedience, they’re at their wit’s end and think there’s no other choice… I personally am trying to work within the law and change the law, I think that’s what my job is and I think we can challenge the president on this, particularly his hypocrisy. I’m reserving judgment on Mr. Snowden, but I think he felt like something like this was so wrong — millions of phone records being looked at.”
A week later, Paul appeared on Sean Hannity’s FOX News show and described Snowden as a “civil disobedient,” and noted that famous cases of civil disobedience – such as Martin Luther King Jr., or Henry David Thoreau – faced much shorter jail terms than Snowden might be up against.
Paul also clarified his interpretation of Snowden’s decision, saying the NSA leaker did not commit a serious crime by revealing information about eavesdropping on an enemy. Instead, he simply shone the spotlight on a program that people already knew about. A program that, in and of itself, is unconstitutional.
On June 24 Paul firmed up his stance, drawing a stark contrast to what Snowden did compared to National Security Director James Clapper. Clapper now-famously clumsily skirted around the truth during an open Congressional hearing back on March 12. When asked by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon if the NSA collected “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper responded by saying, “No sir…Not wittingly.”
He has since acknowledged the deceit, saying he responded in what he thought was “the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner,” to a question that was “not answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no.”
Sen. Paul was blunt in his assessment of both men’s decisions during an interview with CNN‘s Candy Crowley on June 24.
Rand Paul: Clapper Lied, Snowden Told the Truth
“Mr. Clapper lied in Congress in defiance of the law in the name of security – Mr. Snowden told the truth in the name of privacy,” [Paul said,] “so I think there will be a judgment because both of them broke the law and history will have to determine.”
[Snowden, he added,] “was simply coming forward and telling the truth that your government was lying.”
Paul quickly went after the constitutionality of the NSA spying program as well, even announcing plans to file a class action lawsuit against the U.S. government shortly after the leak happened.
Rand Paul Lays Out Plans for Legal Action Over Government Surveillance
“Well, we are asking people who have been affected by this spying if they want to sue the government and say, you know what, this is unconstitutional,” [he said at the time.] “And since everyone’s phone records were spied upon, I would guess that that includes millions and millions of people. … So what we’re saying is, is that the government has no right through a single warrant to search everyone’s records.”
Paul has caught flak from big Republican voices for his stances on Snowden and the NSA leaks. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said that Paul was wrong to suggest that the NSA’s domestic spying program was an invasion of Americans’ privacy. And very recently, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) went after Paul for criticizing the NSA’s surveillance programs.
King’s comments came after a news report just over a week ago that the NSA broke privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times per year, according to one of Snowden’s leaked documents, an internal audit. After that information was outed, Paul came out and said that the Supreme Court should look at the constitutionality of the spying programs.
Rand Paul Wants Supreme Court to Review Constitutionality of NSA’s Surveillance Programs
“One of the fundamental things that our Founders put in place was they wanted to separate police power from the judiciary power. So, they didn’t want police to write warrants – and the NSA are a type of police. They wanted a judiciary, an independent, open judiciary, responsive to the people with open debate in public,” [he said.]
[He added later:] “I think the constitutionality of these programs need to be questioned and there needs to be a Supreme Court decision that looks at whether or not what they’re doing is constitutional or not.”
King said he “fully disagreed” with Paul’s stance, which was based on “a grab bag of misinformation and distortion,” and cited the program’s relatively low error rate as a reason he supported it.
Pete King: Rand Paul is ‘a grab bag of misinformation and distortion’ on NSA
“Take Rand Paul’s own numbers; he said there are billions of phone calls being collected,” [King said.] “It’s not really true, but assume he’s right for once, billions of phone calls being collected. You juxtapose that with 2,800 violations that were self-reported by the NSA…If you have 99.99 percent compliance, and you have self-reporting errors… I’m on the Intelligence Committee. I am satisfied that we are told what the NSA is doing.”
Still, Paul has been careful to walk the line between national security and privacy.
He said that with proper oversight, a version of the program could continue. But that oversight can’t come from the program itself, and there are some specific fundamental issues he currently has, especially with the warrants.
NSA Spying ‘Unconstitutional’
“Our Founding Fathers, when they wrote the Fourth Amendment, they said a single warrant goes towards a specific individual and what you want to look for. You ask a judge and you say John Smith we think is doing this. We have probable cause to think that he’s involved with a crime and you get a warrant…The Constitution doesn’t allow for a single warrant to get a billion phone records. You know, they have a warrant that says, we want all of Verizon’s phone calls, all of AT&T’s phone calls, all of etc. etc., they basically I believe, probably, are looking at all the cell phone calls in America every day,” he said.
Where does all this leave Paul? Well, mostly in that section of safe waters, still sparsely populated as the clouds roll in and the waves crash around him. He did recently get some support from an international source, however.
Wikileaks Founder Assange Praises Sen. Rand Paul
In an interview with Campus Reform, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said he was a “big admirer” of Rand and his father Ron for “their very principled positions in the U.S. Congress on a number of issues.” He also added: “The libertarian aspect of the Republican Party is presently the only useful political voice really in the U.S. Congress. It will be the driver that shifts the United States around.”
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