On Thursday, I held a news conference announcing my intent to pursue legal action against the federal government for infringing on Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights. The National Security Agency’s collection of Verizon’s client data probably only scratches the surface. A court order that allows the government to obtain a billion records a day and does not name an individual target is clearly beyond the scope of the Fourth Amendment, which states clearly that warrants must be specific to the person and the place.
Joining me Thursday to show support for this action were U.S. Reps. Justin Amash, Thomas Massie, Mick Mulvaney, Louie Gohmert and Mark Sanford, along with representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, FreedomWorks, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Campaign for Liberty, as well as constitutional scholar and lawyer Bruce Fein.
Mr. Gohmert joked about standing next to the ACLU, but he pointed out that upholding the Constitution is not about Republican versus Democrat or conservative versus liberal. It is about liberty versus power. It recognizes and attempts to limit the inevitable arrogance of power. President Obama says that we can trust his administration not to abuse the mountains of data he admits it gathers. Perhaps we can also trust the Internal Revenue Service not to target those who speak out against the government. Perhaps we can also trust the Justice Department not to seize the phone records of Associated Press reporters.
Our Founders never intended for Americans to trust their government. Our entire Constitution was predicated on the notion that government was a necessary evil, to be restrained and minimized as much as possible.
Indiscriminate monitoring of citizens’ records is precisely the kind of general warranting we fought a revolution over. The Colonists did not appreciate a British government that could go door to door, searching anyone and everyone without probable cause or suspicion.
Today, our government goes phone to phone, computer to computer and dares to call this lawful and constitutional. At a hearing on March 12, Sen. Ron Wyden asked Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Mr. Clapper replied, “No sir not wittingly.”
We now know that the NSA did this wittingly. We know that Mr. Clapper was not telling us the truth.
Are these government officials telling us the truth now when they claim they are not abusing our phone-data information? By what history or track record are we supposed to trust them? What does it say about us if we are willing to give government the benefit of the doubt, but that same government treats every American as a potential terrorist?
No, the proper order of things in our constitutional republic is that the government is supposed to fear its citizens, not the other way around.
So far, we have more than 250,000 people who have signed up to challenge the constitutionality of the generalized warrants. We expect many more.
The Constitution is not a negotiable piece of parchment to be ignored or abused at the president’s whim. Washington leaders are expected to obey and protect what they took an oath to uphold — and if this means taking them to court over it, so be it.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Homeland Security committees.