He may have annoyed his U.S. Senate colleagues by seizing the floor for a marathon monologue last week, but Rand Paul did Americans a singular service by forcing attention on the fact that their civil liberties remain at stake as Congress drifts toward a renewal of the Patriot Act that is likely to do too little to rein in government surveillance programs. “Are you really willing to give up your liberty for security?” Paul asked in his unexpected, 10½-hour quasi-filibuster.
The Kentucky lawmaker candidly linked his floor speech to his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, where he is determined to make more of a public issue of government intrusion into the private lives of Americans after the 9 /11 attacks. This is to be welcomed, particularly since so many of his rivals prefer to slide off the issue by endorsing a compromised and faulty renewal of the Patriot Act as it expires on June 1.
“I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged,” Paul declared. He conceded he might not have the votes to prevail, but said he would keep reminding the public of abuses like the government’s secret phone-data sweeps of American households that were finally declared illegal this month in federal court.
The focus of the senator’s alarm, and rightly so, was a pair of bipartisan renewal bills in both houses that fall short of remedying the problem. The bills would cut back, but not end, the domestic phone-data sweeps that eroded individual rights while accomplishing little in protecting the nation. They avoid the issue of bulk collection of overseas calls, which could include information about Americans. And they fail to create an advocate to represent the public’s interest when the government seeks fresh approvals from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has proved far too passive in protecting Americans’ civil liberties.
Paul was not alone in demanding something better from Congress. Ten senators dropped by to show support at different times, seven of them Democrats. This is an issue the public must hear more fully. Paul warned that the renewal law was likely to be a failed and rushed compromise that would continue to allow abuse of civil liberties. “Are we going to accept that without any debate?” he asked, reaching beyond the Senate to the nation.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE NEW YORK TIMES