Republican senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul vowed Saturday to force the Patriot Act to expire Sunday night.
The Senate will reconvene with just hours to either extend the law used by the NSA to justify bulk collection of domestic phone records, or to pass the USA Freedom Act, which would stop the collection and force the NSA to obtain a warrant to access the records from phone companies.
Paul has the power to single-handedly stop either option before midnight Sunday, when the Patriot Act expires. “I believe we must fight terrorism, and I believe we must stand strong against our enemies,” he said in a statementSaturday. “But we do not need to give up who we are to defeat them.”
“So tomorrow, I will force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy program,” he added.
The Senate rejected both a two month extension of the Patriot Act and the USA Freedom Act before breaking for Memorial Day, and could not even agree to a 24-hour extension of the bill, largely because of Paul’s objections.
To bring either option up for a vote Sunday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have to get unanimous consent to expedite the process. Paul says he won’t allow it, and he could tie up the Senate for days, forcing the Patriot Act to at least temporarily expire.
In an email to supporters Saturday night, Paul vowed he wouldn’t back down, and touted a Politico reporter’s statement that “he’s never brought the Senate to its knees as he has done now.”
“Spy-state apologists are stomping mad,” he added.
In anticipation of this moment, America’s Liberty PAC released a bizarre ad Friday previewing the “brawl for liberty of the century,” featuring a jacked up Paul, fire-breathing eagles and exploding Capitol dome.
Rand says the bulk collection of phone records violates the 4th amendment, but supporters of the Patriot Act maintain the phone collection program is both legal and constitutional, and vital to national security.
The program allows the NSA to collect metadata on a rolling basis from phone companies and store it for limited access that can be granted only by permission from a secret federal court. The metadata includes phone numbers and the date and time of the calls, but not the contents of the call, and comes primarily from landlines.
“You take your phone bill and start poking it, and see what information you can get out of it,” former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden told The Daily Caller News Foundation. He bemoaned the spread of misinformation about the realities and limits of the domestic collection program, and supports reauthorization of the Patriot Act as is.
“The punchline is that those phone records don’t belong to you, they belong to the phone companies,” he added, citing a 2012 district court ruling under appeal that metadata is part of a business transaction, so it belongs to the phone companies and is therefore not protected under the 4th amendment.
“The NSA should have been more forthcoming [about the program],” he said. “But the NSA can’t share with the public everything it does.”
The real question is not about collection of metadata, but about how to make the NSA as transparent and accountable as possible, without undermining its operations, he said.
“That question blows the metadata question out of the water. [Edward] Snowden and Rand’s filibuster are symptoms of the greater question: Should the NSA have to get consent from elected representatives or directly from the people themselves?”
Citizens absolutely have the right to limit the NSA’s power, but then they have to be willing to accept the consequences those limitations could bring about, he said. “The citizens should draw the box, but if a terror attack succeeds because the box was too small, they need to understand their responsibility.”
“They need to understand the risk they’re taking,” he said.
If Paul does force the Patriot Act to expire, McConnell will likely bring the USA Freedom Act to the floor for a vote later this week, which was passed overwhelmingly by the House. It’s not so popular in the Senate, but is likely to pass if it’s the only option to reactivate key provisions of the Patriot Act.
This report, by Rachel Stoltzfoos, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.