GOP should lead fight against the Patriot Act
And to think they told us the War on Terror was over.
With news that the National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of us through one of America’s largest telecoms providers, Republicans have a chance to dramatically recast themselves in the debate over state surveillance and privacy.
An order requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to hand over information on all telephone calls in its systems to the NSA — both domestically and between the United States and other nations. A White House official has already defended the actions: “On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls. The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the name of any subscriber. It relates exclusively to metadata, such as a telephone number or the length of a call.”
Though Americans are usually evenly split over the Patriot Act, I suspect that the brazenness and widespread nature of this particular brand of snooping probably won’t go over well. It’s important to remember that during the Bush years the NSA had, as this USA Today story characterizes it, a “massive database of Americans’ phone calls,” so this isn’t exactly new territory. The GOP will undoubtedly be branded a bunch of hypocrites (and in some instances it will be well deserved). What is new in Washington, however, is a gaggle of libertarian-minded GOP politicians that weren’t part of the 99-1 affirmative vote on the Patriot Act and they weren’t here for a decade defending the expansion of FISA courts.
Imagine this scenario: Three Republicans senators – obviously, the mostly likely candidates being Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul – craft a bill that would repeal, or far more likely roll back certain provisions of the Patriot Act. A number of Democrats – Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, who have both warned that the administration was, with the blessing of a FISA court, engaged in these sorts of activities – would almost surely join in. Rand has already demonstrated the political potential of a passionate stand against abuse.
The administration, on the other hand, would likely have to oppose repeal or even rollbacks, turning the entire debate on its head – a pro-drone, pro-surveillance administration that also oversaw a similarly abusive IRS.
No doubt John McCain & Friends would also stridently oppose. Butt that fissure is already with the party. Though Democrats are in no position to lead a charge against their own leader, most would find themselves in a tough position, while at the same time Republicans could demonstrate a (sorely needed) consistent skepticism about government power.
And best case scenario, the Patriot Act reformers actually win.
Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter @davidharsanyi.