Rand Paul takes heat for NSA vote

Civil liberties advocates who usually view Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) as an ally are frustrated with his vote Tuesday against an intelligence reform bill.

Paul voted against a procedural motion for the USA Freedom Act, which would have enacted the most sweeping changes to American intelligence agencies in more than a decade, on the grounds that it reauthorized some portions of the Patriot Act.

{mosads}If he wanted to strengthen the bill, civil libertarians said, Paul should have at least voted to bring it up for a discussion on the floor.

“Although we appreciate his shared enthusiasm for reining in the NSA, many in the privacy community are deeply disappointed by Senator Paul’s vote,” Kevin Bankston, the policy director at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Intitute, told The Hill in an email.

“By taking what he seemed to think was the strongest possible anti-surveillance stance, Senator Paul ironically ended up shooting the surveillance reform movement in the foot,” Bankston added. “That’ll definitely slow us down as we march down the path toward real reform, but it won’t stop us.”

Paul remained resolute in his decision after Tuesday’s vote, even while acknowledging that his vote was crucial.

The bill needed 60 votes to proceed to consideration on the floor of the Senate, but came up two short.

The libertarian Reason magazine on Wednesday said that Paul “may well come to rue the day that he allowed the perfect to get in the way of the merely better.” 

Though chances of additional action on intelligence reform seem nearly impossible this year, the issue is sure to return early in 2015, when a key Patriot Act measure allowing the NSA to search Americans’ phone records expires. Reforming that provision was at the center of the USA Freedom Act, and intelligence agency officials say that letting it expire entirely would be disastrous for national security.

With his vote on Tuesday, Paul seemed to write himself entirely out of that discussion, which critics feared would only empower Congress’s defense hawks next year.

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