The US Senate experienced a weekend of Republican wrangling over renewal of provisions of the USA Patriot Act, with Indiana Senator Dan Coats claiming that Kentucky Senator Rand Paul was “lying” when Paul objected that supposed “reforms” of rules governing surveillance still threatened privacy rights. Arizona Senator John McCain, a frequent presidential candidate, was even rougher on Paul, a current presidential candidate; with McCain claiming that Paul’s attempts to assure that the bulk-data program is blocked were “to some degree, a fundraising exercise.”
“He obviously has a higher priority for his fundraising and political ambitions than for the security of the nation,” McCain said of Paul.
Paul countered, “People here in town think I’m making a huge mistake. Some of them, I think, secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me.”
The wrangling briefly prevented “reforms” of the Patriot Act as outlined in the so-called “USA Freedom Act, which Paul explains does not really end the bulk-data program—just rearranges it by setting up a situation where phone companies “may do the same thing” as the National Security Agency. And the NSA may access can then access the data.
The fight led Republican leaders in the Senate, who initially grumbled that the USA Freedom Act could go too far in limiting intelligence gathering, to accept the measure. That was a victory for Congressman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican who formerly served as House Judiciary Committee chairman, the sponsor of the USA Freedom Act.
The Sensenbrenner bill is at best a frustrating compromise, not real reform. The right response, as outlined by Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, would repeal federal dragnet surveillance laws, while overhauling the NSA’s domestic-surveillance program. “The warrantless collection of millions of personal communications from innocent Americans is a direct violation of our constitutional right to privacy,” says Pocan, who has worked with libertarian-leaning Republicans on this issue. “Revelations about the NSA’s programs reveal the extraordinary extent to which the program has invaded Americans’ privacy. I reject the notion that we must sacrifice liberty for security—we can live in a secure nation which also upholds a strong commitment to civil liberties.”
So Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsinite, wants a little reform. Pocan, another Wisconsinite, wants real reform.