Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has been rambling on the Senate floor about National Security Agency surveillance for three hours and counting.
In a pseudo-filibuster, the presidential candidate has taken a lengthy tirade against the Patriot Act, which he calls “the most unpatriotic of acts.” The lengthy floor speech comes as several Patriot Act provisions are set to expire on June 1, including the mandate that allows for the bulk collection of American phone records.
The Senate needs to act quickly to reauthorize these provisions or pass a House-backed reform bill, the FREEDOM Act, before it leaves for its Memorial Day recess at the end of the week. About two hours into Paul’s diatribe, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden joined his fellow privacy advocate on the floor.
Paul has been threatening to filibuster any bills that would reauthorize the Patriot Act. It seems he jumped the gun on the congressional debate, taking the floor while the Senate was discussing a trade bill that they’re also racing to pass before the holiday recess.
“There comes to a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer,” Paul said. “That time is now.”
Paul is known for his grandstanding and filibustering. He famously took the floor for 13 hours a year ago to filibuster drones. He calls himself the only anti-surveillance candidate (and reminds voters by selling a NSA spy cam blocker in his campaign store).
Paul is bringing attention to an issue that is crucial for tech. The disclosures of Edward Snowden had massive repercussions for the industry. From the floor of the nearly empty Senate chamber, Paul has discussed many of the programs revealed by Snowden to the media and questioned whether or not they are effective in protecting American national security interests.
But his hard line on surveillance issues has prevented him from supporting surveillance reform measures that would have reined in the NSA’s surveillance capabilities. In December, Paul voted against the USA FREEDOM Act because he felt it did not go far enough in curtailing the agency’s practices. The bill had strong support from the tech industry but fell two short of the 60 votes it needed to succeed.
Now the Senate is barreling toward the deadline for the Patriot Act provisions, and it looks like in the new landscape of the 114th Congress, tech may not come out on top. The industry’s best shot at the moment is in a weaker version of last year’s FREEDOM Act, which is stronger on national security provisions and lacks some of the amendments that bolstered the privacy contingencies of the 2014 version.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who wants to see a clean reauthorization of the Patriot Act, took a gamble and said he would allow a vote on a weaker version of the FREEDOM Act that passed the House last week. He doesn’t think those in favor of surveillance reform have the 60 votes they need to succeed, and if he’s right we may see the Senate instead opt for a short-term reauthorization of the Patriot Act.
At a campaign rally earlier this week, Paul admitted he would only be able to delay and debate the Patriot Act, not defeat it.
“They’ve got the votes inside the Beltway, but we have the votes outside the Beltway,” Paul said, referring to recent surveys that show the majority of the public favors reform.