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Reining in the Surveillance State | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Reining in the Surveillance State

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Last week, Tea Party–backed Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) set the progressive world abuzz.

No, not with his usual retrograde positions on abortion, gay marriage or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (he was against it before he was for it)—but rather with an op-ed in The New York Times, demanding that the Obama administration release its legal argument justifying the use of a drone to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen, without trial. Paul vowed to filibuster the nomination to the US Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit of former Justice Department official David Barron, who helped write memos supporting said argument.

Paul’s strong libertarian principles have always differentiated him from many of his Republican colleagues. It is, therefore, not all that shocking for him to speak out against a president he dislikes on a policy he disdains. Yet his outspokenness has many liberals and leftists asking a legitimate question: Why aren’t there more Democratic voices opposing the surveillance state? Protecting civil liberties should be a critical piece of the progressive platform, but too many establishment Democrats and progressives have been silent on this issue simply because one of their own is in the White House.

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Some Democrats in Congress have taken bold stands. Longtime civil liberties champion (and former House Judiciary Committee chair) John Conyers has worked to limit the National Security Agency’s collection of bulk telephone data. Representatives Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Adam B. Schiff of California have probed the administration’s drone and surveillance programs. Representative Zoe Lofgren of California is pushing to prevent the NSA from weakening online encryption. In the Senate, Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy of Vermont has held oversight hearings questioning excessive surveillance. Even Dianne Feinstein of California, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and normally a committed defender of the intelligence community, finally spoke out after discovering that the CIA spied on Senate staffers. And last week, Senators Mark Udall of Colorado and Ron Wyden of Oregon sent a letter to Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., strongly criticizing a “culture of misinformation” that has resulted in “misleading statements… about domestic surveillance.” And Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, has proposed a bill limiting FBI and NSA spying.

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

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