Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., vowed Saturday to block the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, saying he would "force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy program" in a statement posted to his website. Following his 10-hour "filibuster" of the bill earlier this week, Paul announced he will continue to oppose efforts to extend the Patriot Act as well as efforts to pass the USA Freedom Act. His announcement came less than 24 hours after President Barack Obama warned that National Security Agency surveillance powers would expire unless “a handful of senators” stopped their opposition.
The Patriot Act was signed into law shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, authorizing the government to collect American phone records and other sensitive communication metadata. The bill has long infuriated civil liberties advocates, with criticism reaching new heights since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed it provides the legal authorization for an array of mass surveillance programs. The USA Freedom Act is an attempt at compromise, lawmakers say, by putting the vast database of American phone records into the hands of private phone companies rather than the NSA, where it is now.
Paul likes neither option. The Kentucky senator issued a statement on his website Saturday promising to intervene in plans by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to rally the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act before Section 215 of the Patriot Act, a key section, expires. That would put domestic American surveillance in a state of legal limbo. The Senate is due to meet for an emergency session to debate the issue Sunday.
“I believe we must fight terrorism, and I believe we must stand strong against our enemies. But we do not need to give up who we are to defeat them. In fact, we must not,” Paul said. “There has to be another way. We must find it together. ... Sometimes when the problem is big enough, you just have to start over. The tax code and our regulatory burdens are two good examples. Fighting against unconditional, illegal powers that take away our rights, taken by previous Congresses and administrations is just as important.”
Obama urged the Senate to authorize the USA Freedom Act immediately during his weekly address Saturday.
“As president and commander in chief, my greatest responsibility is the safety of the American people,” Obama said. “And in our fight against terrorist, we need to use every effective tool at our disposal – both to defend our security and protect the freedoms and civil liberties enshrined in our Constitution.”
Obama has backed the USA Freedom Act, echoing officials who say that in order to protect Americans law enforcement needs access to their communication records. “Terrorist like al Qaeda and ISIL aren't suddenly going to stop plotting against us at midnight tomorrow, and we shouldn't surrender the tools that help keep us safe,” Obama said. “It would be irresponsible, it would be reckless and we shouldn't allow it to happen.”
An FBI inspector general report released earlier this month revealed that the Patriot Act failed to identify or stop any acts of terrorism between 2004 and 2009, even as bulk data collection tripled.