POLITICS

Rand Paul Calls For End To Domestic Surveillance Program

05/18/2015 02:19 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2016
Scott Olson via Getty Images

By Andy Sullivan

PHILADELPHIA, May 18 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul girded for a fight in Congress that could pit the Kentucky senator against some of his presidential rivals as he called on Washington to end a sweeping domestic-surveillance program.

Standing in front of Independence Hall, a symbol of individual freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, Paul said on Monday he would do all he could to prevent Congress from allowing the FBI and the NSA to continue to collect Americans' telephone records in bulk.

"Our Founding Fathers would be appalled to know that we are writing one single warrant and collecting everyone's phone records all the time," Paul said.

Paul acknowledged he didn't have the votes in Congress to kill the program, but he said he would push for a full debate as the Senate considers whether to scale it back.

The program is due to expire at the end of the month.

The debate could highlight divisions in the Republican presidential field between the libertarian-leaning senator and some of his more hawkish rivals over the reach of the government's spying powers.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz has said he supports a compromise that would scale back the surveillance program, which passed the House of Representatives by a wide margin earlier this month and is also backed by the Obama administration.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, another presidential candidate, wants to keep the program intact. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is weighing a 2016 presidential bid, said Monday he wants to see the Patriot Act extended without conditions.

The surveillance program was made possible by the USA Patriot Act, which gave the government broad tools to investigate terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It was conducted in secret until former government contractor Edward Snowden made it public in 2013.

A U.S. appeals court ruled the program illegal earlier this month but did not require the government to stop it.

A high-profile fight over the bulk collection program could enhance Paul's national profile. He won widespread notice in 2013 when he spoke for nearly 13 hours on the floor of the Senate to criticize the Obama administration's use of drones.

Paul has made civil liberties a cornerstone of his unorthodox presidential bid, arguing that his fellow Republicans are not doing enough to protect constitutionally guaranteed rights to privacy and justice.

"The Republican Party is a great party for the Second Amendment," which allows citizens to own firearms, he said. "But the thing is, some of the other amendments are pretty important too." (Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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