Paul's privacy push: 'Watch the watchers'


Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced Wednesday he plans to push for the creation of a select committee to investigate alleged abuses by the intelligence community.

Speaking to a friendly student crowd at the University of California, Berkeley, Paul railed against the National Security Administration surveillance program and pledged to push for a committee modeled after the Church Committee, the bipartisan Senate panel created to investigate the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation following the Watergate scandal.

“It should be bipartisan, it should be independent and far-reaching, it should have full power to investigate and reform those who spy on us in the name of protecting us. It should watch the watchers,” he said.

The Church Committee led to the creation of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which oversees those bureaus. It’s not immediately clear how Paul’s proposal differs from the Intelligence Committee, and Paul’s office did not respond to a request for further details.

The Kentucky senator cited as the primary reason behind his push for a new oversight committee what he sees as a disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which requires probable cause for warrants and prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. He also mentioned the recent accusations that the CIA illegally accessed computers used by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers as part of the cause for the new push.

“How does the Fourth Amendment apply to the digital age?” he asked. “To me this is a profound constitutional question. Can a single warrant be applied to millions of Americans?”

Paul has emerged as an outspoken defender of the Fourth Amendment and privacy issues during his time in Congress, using the issues to harness the libertarian sentiment that has grown within both parties in recent years.

His focus on privacy issues is part of what’s catapulted him to national prominence and made him a serious potential contender for the 2016 presidential race. That prospect enjoyed increased chatter over the past few weeks, as Paul took first place in two straw polls at conservative gatherings just outside of Washington and in New Hampshire this month.

And he’s done little to temper the chatter. Asked outright how he would respond to speculation that he’s gearing up for a run, he told the crowd, “maybe."

"Part of it might be that. Part of it might be that the Republican Party, I’ve said, they either have to evolve, adapt or die," he added.

Paul compared the GOP's realization that it needs to expand its reach to untapped demographics to the pizza chain Domino's admission that it had "bad crust."

His visit to UC Berkeley, seen as a traditionally hostile venue for Republicans, was one of many he’s made to college campuses as part of an effort to expand the reach of the GOP.

But his outreach to young people and African-Americans, with trips to historically black colleges and universities as well, is read by most as an effort to build support in time for a 2016 presidential bid.

And he delivered a number of lines that were well received by the young crowd, including one about NSA surveillance that drew applause at the Conservative Political Action Conference this month: “What you do on your cellphones is none of their damn business.”

But some of his assertions are likely to create some controversy, like his comparison of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks to the civil disobedience of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and his suggestion that there hasn’t been “enough criticism” of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for denying the existence of NSA surveillance programs during congressional testimony.

During the question and answer segment, Paul later declared that Clapper “should be tried for perjury.”

He was reticent to encourage further leaks like Snowden’s, however. Asked whether he would encourage more people to come forward with similar documents and information, he said he was “of mixed feelings” on the issue.

More in Presidential races

Paul mocks Carson: 'Aliens' likely built pyramids

Read more »