He was accused of responding too sluggishly and carefully to the Baltimore unrest and last month's drone revelations. No one can accuse Kentucky Senator Rand Paul of avoiding the New York appeals court decision that found the NSA's bulk data collection program to be a violation of the Patriot Act. Within minutes, Paul's social media accounts were turned over to the NSA story.
"This is a monumental decision for all lovers of liberty," Paul said in a later statement. "I commend the federal courts for upholding our Constitution and protecting our Fourth Amendment rights. While this is a step in the right direction, it is now up to the Supreme Court to strike down the NSA's illegal spying program. It is the duty of elected officials to protect the rights of all Americans, and Congress should immediately repeal the Patriot Act provisions and pass my Fourth Amendment Preservation and Protection Act. I will continue to fight to prevent the Washington Machine from illegally seizing any American's personal communication."
The reference to an ongoing legislative battle hints at how civil liberty reformers have struggled outside of the courts–and how the courts may bail them out. Until today, the vehicles for NSA reform, such as the USA Freedom Act, have united the civil libertarians in both parties as an alternative to flat-out renewal of all surveillance programs. They have watched as their legislation was watered down into something that ended "bulk collection" while, as Dan Froomkin explains, "tapping data lines that go in and out of the U.S., grabbing personal information without a warrant from major content providers like Facebook and Yahoo."
This is precisely the Fourth Amendment problem that Paul has campaigned against. "The Fourth Amendment is not consistent with a warrant that says Mr. Verizon on it," he said last month in New Hampshire. "Last I checked, Mr. Verizon is not a person. The government, it's none of their damn business what you're doing on your phone."
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who generally agrees with Paul on surveillance, did not respond to the ruling Thursday morning. Nor did Paul's frequent Senate/primary state rivals, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
UPDATE: After publication, Cruz released this statement.
The court’s ruling today confirms what the American public already knew: The National Security Agency’s data collection program went too far in collecting the phone records of Americans. Congress should immediately pass the USA FREEDOM Act, of which I am a proud cosponsor, to strike the right balance between privacy rights and national security interests. The USA FREEDOM Act ends the NSA’s unfettered data collection program once and for all, while at the same time preserving the government's ability to obtain information to track down terrorists when it has sufficient justification and support for doing so.