I feel a little about this filibuster the way I did about the Blackhawks playing in game 7 last night against the Anaheim Ducks: I’m so nervous I can’t watch. Tonight, as I try to avoid talking about privacy and security issues by immersing myself in Game of Thrones, Sen. Rand Paul will launch a last-ditch effort to derail a rote authorization of the PATRIOT ACT, in an effort to delete or delay the approval of the NSA’s bulk cellular data collection programs and other violations of Americans’ privacy.
At midnight tonight, without a vote to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act in full, the NSA’s authority — as well as authority for the other actions the PATRIOT Act authorizes — will expire. Rand Paul, a Republican, will attempt to filibuster this prize governmental bill while Democrat Barack Obama, who ran on the promise of ending the unlawful and unconstitutional infringement of Americans’ privacy rights, is spending his evening desperately whipping votes to save the very overreach of authority he claimed to be the “fresh alternative” to. Obama claims Paul is making the effort only to save a flagging Presidential campaign, which is ironic, since opposition to domestic wiretapping in the Bush Administration was a hallmark of his. According to the President, the PATRIOT Act’s passage is a matter of life and death.
In the run-up to this evening’s Senate showdown over National Security Agency surveillance, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has vowed to end the agency’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records, even as President Obama is urging passage of a compromise bill that would shut down that NSA program but also preserve several other spying powers.
The Senate has only hours to act. At midnight Sunday, the surveillance authorities — all created under the USA Patriot Act — are due to lapse.
“So what’s the problem?” Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday. “A small group of senators is standing in the way. And unfortunately, some folks are trying to use this debate to score political points. But this shouldn’t and can’t be about politics. This is a matter of national security.”
There is an effort to strip the NSA’s data collection program out of the PATRIOT Act, a measure called the USA Freedom Act. Paul believes that more is wrong with the PATRIOT Act than simply a single NSA program revealed by Edward Snowden. Buried in the PATRIOT Act are thousands of “national security” programs that create, at least for Paul, similar concerns, and one single program, addressed by one single measure, is simply not enough.
Now, while you can probably tell what side I fall on from my writings on the subject, I leave you with this, as we enter what is certain to be a tense night. Whether you agree that the PATRIOT Act must lapse or not, or whether you agree that the NSA’s wiretapping programs must be addressed or not, bear in mind that like the Affordable Care Act, most of our legislators and elected officials have no idea what the extent of the law really is, let alone what its impact is on everyday Americans. While the CIA may contend that the NSA’s programs are absolutely necessary to every last anti-terrorism effort the U.S. undertakes, the NSA itself has admitted that the program is so bloated and unorganized that it’s almost useless for interdiction. And even if it was, is the program itself truly worth the cost to Americans’ Constitutional rights? And don’t we deserve to make that decision for ourselves?
Barack Obama once certainly thought so. I wonder if tonight, as he whips his caucus into shape to ensure that his government retains the authority to conduct overarching data collection programs that operate outside the purview of Congress and without oversight only from a secret court, he’ll think about that. I’m sure the PATRIOT Act will eventually pass, hopefully with the USA Freedom Act intact. But perhaps the good thing in all of this is that Barack Obama will be the one responsible.