Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced on Thursday a bill that would restrict government searches of phone numbers without "a warrant based on probable cause." The legislation is in response to news that the National Security Agency has seized millions of Verizon phone records pursuant to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court order.
The debate over what information the government is entitled to — and how FISA courts make such a determination — was at one time a top conversation in Congress. But since 2010, the topic has become largely non-controversial among lawmakers and Congress on multiple occasions has quietly reauthorized the sweeping Patriot Act, which was passed in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In February 2010, the Senate passed a renewal in a late-evening unanimous consent vote.
It's certainly becoming a point of contention again. Paul, who has taken particular interest in these privacy issues, was the first out of the gate with a new bill.
“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. I have long argued that Congress must do more to restrict the Executive’s expansive law enforcement powers to seize private records of law-abiding Americans that are held by a third-party,” Paul said in a statement. “When the Senate rushed through a last-minute extension of the FISA Amendments Act late last year, I insisted on a vote on my amendment ... to require stronger protections on business records and prohibiting the kind of data-mining this case has revealed."
His statement continued: "Just last month, I introduced S.1037, the Fourth Amendment Preservation and Protection Act, which would provide exactly the kind of protections that, if enacted, could have prevented these abuses and stopped these increasingly frequent violations of every American’s constitutional rights. 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.”
As WGDB reported earlier today, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., has worked for years to end the data collection program. And he predicted in 2009 that a controversy would erupt someday over something like the Verizon phone data order that disrupted the Capitol Thursday.
“I’ve offered several [proposals] over the years, and I’m prepared to offer them again,” Durbin said then. “I think there are ways to make this more specific so that any data collected is specific to a suggestion that an individual is … engaged in conduct that endangers America.”
But not all lawmakers are concerned. The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee are not worried about the seizures. This position is consistent with the one we first reported Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., took last month on the Department of Justice's decision to seize phone records of Associated Press reporters.
“I’m not one of them that has said the Department of Justice has exceeded their boundaries. I think it’s important that we find out exactly what was done," Feinstein said then of that government probe.