Home / / US lawmaker makes 10-hour speech opposing renewal of bulk data-collection

US lawmaker makes 10-hour speech opposing renewal of bulk data-collection

Presidential hopeful Rand Paul receives support from both sides of political divide

Paul: We shouldn't be so fearful that we're willing to relinquish our rights without a spirited debate.
Paul: We shouldn't be so fearful that we're willing to relinquish our rights without a spirited debate.

A US senator spoke for almost 10 hours yesterday in opposition of spy agencies' controversial mass collection of private phone data, Reuters reported.

Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, who is running for his party's presidential nomination, gave his speech during a Senate debate on renewal of legislation that allowed organisations such as the National Security Agency to gather huge troves of meta data. As Paul's 10-and-a-half-hour talk progressed, he was joined by other lawmakers, including another Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, and Democrat Ron Wyden.

"We shouldn't be so fearful that we're willing to relinquish our rights without a spirited debate," Paul said.

The news comes within hours of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak referring to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as "a hero". Snowden turned whistleblower in 2013 when he passed classified documents to reporters about NSA activity. He has long defended his decision by insisting that the surveillance was unconstitutional.

In December 2013, Federal Judge Richard Leon declared the NSA's mass collection of meta-data to be in violation of the US Constitution's fourth amendment, which gives protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Leon used the phrase "almost Orwellian" to describe the spy agency's activities and suggested James Madison, the fourth US president and the Constitution's principle author, would be "aghast" at the covert surveillance.

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Snowden welcomed the 2013 decision. "I acted on my belief that the NSA's mass surveillance programmes would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts," he said at the time, in a statement given through Glenn Greenwald, a former Guardian journalist to whom Snowden gave sensitive documents.

"Today, a secret programme authorised by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights. It is the first of many."

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that a federal court found Section 215 of the US Patriot Act, which authorised the mass surveillance programmes, to be insufficient grounds for justifying the NSA's collection of domestic communications data.

"[He's a] total hero to me," Wozniak told ITP.net yesterday during an interview at the Gartner Symposium in Dubai. "Total hero. Not necessarily [for] what he exposed, but the fact that he internally came from his own heart, his own belief in the United States Constitution, what democracy and freedom was about, and now a federal judge has said that NSA data collection was unconstitutional."

The US Congress has until Friday - when the law-making body goes into recess - to renew or amend the relevant clauses in the Patriot act, or the data-collection powers will lapse.

The House of Representatives voted 338 to 88 last week to approve the USA Freedom Act, which replaces bulk-collection with targeted retrieval. President Barack Obama is thought to be willing to sign the measure into law, but it would still need approval in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declared support for renewing the Patriot Act without amendment, calling it essential to the safety of Americans.

Paul and Wyden have pledged to block even a short-term extension of the programme.