Rand Paul threatens to filibuster long-term surveillance extension

Rand Paul threatens to filibuster long-term surveillance extension
© Greg Nash

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Senate approves 4B spending bill Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report MORE (R-Ky.) is threatening to filibuster any “long-term extension” of a controversial intelligence program meant to allow the government to collect data on foreign targets without a warrant. 

The program, which is set to expire at the end of this year if Congress doesn't act, has drawn ire from civil liberties advocates because of the incidental collection on U.S. citizens that occurs under the law. 

“I will actively oppose and filibuster any long term extension of warrantless searches of American citizens,” Paul tweeted on Wednesday. 

The spy program, authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), allows the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct surveillance on non-American targets outside the United States without a warrant, even in cases when they communicate with Americans.

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Civil liberties advocates have argued for reform of the law, particularly to close the “backdoor search” loophole that lets federal investigators search through the data incidentally collected on Americans for investigations. 

There have been competing proposals introduced by lawmakers in the House and Senate to reform and extend the program. Meanwhile, Trump administration officials have been pressing for a clean reauthorization of the program, characterizing it vital to national security. Proponents of the law say it provides adequate privacy protections for U.S. citizens. 

The House Rules Committee on Tuesday released a draft bill that would reauthorize the program. Privacy-minded lawmakers have already criticized the bill as doing little to reform 702.

“This bill is an eleventh-hour attempt to sneak an unchecked warrantless surveillance program through Congress,” Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGoogle says senators' Gmail accounts targeted by foreign hackers Wyden says foreign hackers targeted personal accounts of senators, staffers Some employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report MORE (D-Ore.) said in a statement Wednesday morning.

“The legislation posted late yesterday is a clear step backward for Americans’ rights. It does nothing to check the warrantless backdoor searches of Americans’ communications,” Wyden added. “The bill also fails to codify the current prohibition on ‘abouts’ collection, in which communications entirely among innocent Americans can be swept up if they reference a target’s email address.” 

There have been rumblings on Capitol Hill that lawmakers could try to include language in must-pass spending legislation to extend the controversial program. On Tuesday, Paul and Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeReexamining presidential power over national monuments Utah group complains Mia Love should face criminal penalties for improper fundraising Senate approves 4B spending bill MORE (R-Utah) said they would oppose any spending bill that included a permanent reauthorization of the provision, according to the Washington Examiner.

Paul, Lee and others have instead pushed for a short-term reauthorization of Section 702 so that lawmakers have more time to debate the law.

Congress faces a Dec. 22 deadline to fund the government.