Republican Senator from Kentucky and presidential hopeful Rand Paul has succeeded in thwarting the renewal of the Patriot Act’s mass surveillance measures outlined in Section 215.
As the deadline for bill’s renewal came and went last night, NSA’s ability to collect phone records en masse has ended, at least for the time being. Agencies of government will be able to continue investigations begun before June 1, but will not be able to start new ones.
Paul was elated by the news and took the opportunity to take credit and ask for donations from those who support the removal of such surveillance.
Tonight we stopped illegal NSA bulk data collection. Contribute to celebrate this victory >>> https://t.co/9xpIy3FFsR— Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) June 1, 2015
Many in Washington, even fellow Republicans, saw this as merely an episode of grandstanding to advance his political agenda and score points with voters. Senator John McCain accused Paul of being more interested in his presidential aspirations than the security of the nation. The White House had an equally stern message on the developments. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement issued Sunday night:
“We call on the Senate to ensure this irresponsible lapse in authorities is as short-lived as possible.”
This political victory throws the future of the “Patriot Act” into limbo, as well as the reintroduction of its powers in the ironically-named “Freedom Act.” Many say the bill will get passed in one form or another, but it can take days or weeks to seek legislative completion.
The Freedom Act is a virtual match for the Patriot Act, with the main modification being that the NSA would not be able to take phone records directly. The records could only be obtained through the phone companies, and only accessed once a court order is given. The Freedom Act easily passed through the House of Representatives on May 13.
Michael Macleod-Ball, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement:
"Congress should take advantage of this sunset to pass far-reaching surveillance reform, instead of the weak bill currently under consideration."
Senate Republicans were not pleased with the modification of the Freedom Act, saying it only slowed potential investigations and information filtering. They were able to beat its passage on May 23 by three votes. Rand Paul spent over 10 hours recently filibustering to slow the progress of the renewal through the Senate. His efforts were not lost on initial NSA-spying whistleblower Edward Snowden, who endorsed the measures wholeheartedly in a statement. He wrote:
"It represents a sea change from a few years ago when intrusive new surveillance laws were passed without any meaningful opposition or debate. Whatever you think about Rand Paul or his politics, it's important to remember that when he took the floor to say 'No' to any length of the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, he was speaking for the majority of Americans, more than 60% of whom want to see this kind of mass surveillance reformed or ended.”
Even though the Freedom Act and many of the Patriot Act’s powers will eventually move forward through Congress, which Rand Paul himself admits, his efforts toward freedom from surveillance will not go unnoticed. Whether he supports privacy for political reasons or personal reasons, no efforts to protect innocent Americans from mass surveillance have been taken up by future Democratic presidential opponent Hillary Clinton. Paul has proven that one man can make a difference, if only for a little while.