A court decision that declares the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone metadata is illegal reveals a sharp split among several Republican presidential hopefuls over the scope of the surveillance.
Minutes after the ruling, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has challenged the constitutionality of the program, hailed the court ruling, dubbing it a “monumental decision for all lovers of liberty” and calling on the U.S. States Supreme Court to strike down the spying program.
He called on Congress to repeal the Patriot Act provision that permits the collection and said he’d “continue to fight to prevent the Washington Machine from illegally seizing any American's personal communication.”
That stance puts him at sharp odds with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of his potential rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, who took to the Senate floor along with Sens. Richard Burr,R-N.C. and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to defend the program and accuse critics of “raising hysteria.”
He charged that a perception has been created, “including by political figures that serve in this chamber, that the United States government is listening to your phone calls or going through your bills as a matter of course. That is absolutely, categorically false.
“The next time that any politician, senator, congressman, talking head, whatever it may be, stands up and says that the U.S. government is listening to your phone calls or going through your phone records, they’re lying,” Rubio said. “It just is not true. Except for some very isolated instances, in the hundreds, of individuals for whom there is reasonable suspicion that they could have links to terrorism.”
The ruling comes as the Senate debates renewing the Patriot Act, which includes section 215 that allows the government to bulk collect metadata of phone records.
The White House said Obama has privacy concerns about the bulk collection and is working with Congress on legislation, dubbed the USA Freedom Act, to curb it.
That put the administration in the same camp as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who called for passage of the act, saying it “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.”
Rubio has charged the legislation could undercut the ability to track terrorists.