WASHINGTON -- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced legislation Friday that would prevent the government from obtaining the phone records of Americans without "a warrant based on probable cause," following reports that the National Security Agency has secretly been collecting the records of millions of Americans.
The Guardian reported Wednesday that the NSA is collecting call data from millions of Verizon customers under a top-secret U.S. court order. The news, which comes on the heels of reports that the Justice Department had been investigating leaks involving the Associated Press and Fox News, prompted further concerns about government overreach.
It appeared to be the moment Paul, a vocal defender of civil liberties, was waiting for. He announced his bill, "The Fourth Amendment Restoration Act of 2013," in a statement Thursday, as his colleagues on Capitol Hill were busy defending the NSA program.
"The revelation that the NSA has secretly seized the call records of millions of Americans, without probable cause, represents an outrageous abuse of power and a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution," Paul said. "The bill restores our Constitutional rights and declares that the Fourth Amendment shall not be construed to allow any agency of the United States government to search the phone records of Americans without a warrant based on probable cause."
Paul strongly condemned the surveillance, calling it an "astounding assault on the Constitution." He accused President Barack Obama of being more "bent towards authoritarianism" than former President George W. Bush.
Paul announced his measure before the Washington Post reported Thursday evening about a government program called PRISM, which tracks information from nine leading U.S. Internet companies. But he also introduced a bill last month that would extend Fourth Amendment guarantees to electronic communications. The bill would require judges to grant specific warrants to the government in order for it to obtain information on Americans' use of email, the Internet, credit cards, cell phones, and other forms of modern communication.
Obama said Friday he "welcomes" a debate on the issue of national security and privacy rights, but it remains unlikely that Paul's attempt to revisit the issue legislatively will gain much traction. Lawmakers acknowledged Thursday that Congress approved the NSA program and was regularly briefed on it. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee forcefully defended the steps as necessary to protect Americans from the threat of terrorism.
And although Paul has garnered national attention over his pledge to protect civil liberties, most recently through a 13-hour talking filibuster on the use of drone strikes, his own record is rather mixed. The senator has supported the surveillance of foreign exchange students from the Middle East and signaled support for the imprisonment of individuals who attend "radical" speeches. He has consistently opposed the Patriot Act, but opposes shutting down the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.
Paul also received $4,800 from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel for his 2010 Senate run, the maximum donation allowed that year, according to Federal Election Commission data. Thiel is also the founder of Palantir Technologies, a controversial defense contractor that profits from providing spy services to the CIA, FBI and other agencies. Paul's association with Thiel is nonetheless modest compared to that of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who during his 2012 presidential run received his largest donations from Thiel.
Paul Blumenthal contributed reporting.
Read the full text of the bill:
The Fourth Amendment Restoration Act of 2013
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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the court order for telephone records was part of a three-month renewal of an ongoing practice, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20130606/us-nsa-phone-records-feinstein/" target="_blank">the Associated Press reported</a>. "It’s called protecting America," Feinstein said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/verizon-phone-records-nsa_n_3397058.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_blank">said</a> "the administration owes the American public an explanation of what authorities it thinks it has."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) thought everyone "should just calm down." "Right now I think everyone should just calm down and understand this isn't anything that's brand new," Reid <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/verizon-phone-records-nsa_n_3397058.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_blank">said</a>.
Former Vice President Al Gore
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said in a statement: "This type of secret bulk data collection is an outrageous breach of Americans’ privacy."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/lindsey-graham-nsa_n_3396223.html?1370532449" target="_blank">"glad" the NSA was collecting phone records. </a> "I don’t mind Verizon turning over records to the government if the government is going to make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist phone with somebody in the United States," Graham said in an interview on "Fox and Friends."
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) also claimed that reports of the NSA collecting phone records was "nothing particularly new." "Every member of the United States Senate has been advised of this," Chambliss<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/verizon-phone-records-nsa_n_3397058.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_blank"> said</a>. "And to my knowledge we have not had any citizen who has registered a complaint relative to the gathering of this information."
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) found the NSA collecting phone records <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/verizon-phone-records-nsa_n_3397058.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_blank">"troubling."</a> "The fact that all of our calls are being gathered in that way -- ordinary citizens throughout America -- to me is troubling and there may be some explanation, but certainly we all as citizens are owed that, and we're going to be demanding that," Corker <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/06/verizon-phone-records-nsa_n_3397058.html?utm_hp_ref=politics" target="_blank">said</a>.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)