• Showdown over the Patriot Act
  • May 28, 2015
  • Law Firm: McDonald Hopkins LLC - Cleveland Office
  • Early this week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is seeking the GOP nomination for President, told a New Hampshire paper that he would filibuster any attempt to reauthorize the sections of the Patriot Act that allow the National Security Agency to run its mass data-collection programs.

    "I'm going to lead the charge in the next couple of weeks as the Patriot Act comes forward," Paul told the New Hampshire Union Leader. "We will be filibustering. We will be trying to stop it. We are not going to let them run over us."

    With the filibuster threat, Paul placed himself in direct opposition to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who proposed reauthorizing the Patriot Act without any changes. Paul was initially quiet after McConnell, his fellow Kentucky Republican, floated reauthorization last month.

    Paul's threat was the second such declaration in two days: Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also said he would filibuster a straight reauthorization of the Patriot Act, even if it's just a short-term extension of the law.

    Wyden and Paul, both privacy hawks, are longtime critics of the NSA's surveillance programs. Wyden supports the USA Freedom Act, a bill passed by the House on Wednesday, although he says he'd like the legislation to go further to curtail surveillance.

    Paul, however, voted against a version of that bill last year, because he said it was too weak. He has indicated opposition to the bill in this session, most recently in an op-ed in which he suggested the effort "actually gave new authority to the Patriot Act to collect records."

    On Wednesday, the House voted overwhelmingly for the USA Freedom Act. The final tally was 338-88 in favor of the bill, which would extend the Patriot Act for four and a half years, but change the law to explicitly ban the mass collection of phone records or other data.

    The bill would prohibit the NSA from indiscriminately collecting records in bulk. Instead, the agency would be able to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for permission to obtain specific records from the phone companies. The NSA could ask for data on particular phone numbers or other "specific selection terms." But those terms couldn't be information such as entire zip codes or cities that would result in large-scale data collection.

    The legislation aims to improve transparency by requiring that the FISC, the highly secretive court overseeing U.S. surveillance, make public any "significant" legal interpretations.

    In a bid to bolster national security, the bill would make it easier to track suspected terrorists or spies as they enter or leave the country. It also would increase prison terms for anyone convicted of providing material support to terrorism.

    Libertarian-leaning lawmakers such as Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) voted against the bill, saying it wouldn't do enough to protect privacy. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) argued that the bill won't stop the "most egregious and widely reported privacy violations" that occur under a separate legal authority. She voted for the legislation, but warned she may pull her support if the Senate weakens the legislation.