Sen. Paul’s Great Surveillance ‘Filibuster’ and What to Expect Next

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Other Writing
Publication Date: 
May 21, 2015

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Senator Rand Paul, joined by Senator Wyden and other surveillance reform advocates, as well as five members of the House of Representatives, spent much of last night on the Senate floor, making history. He used the platform of a de facto filibuster to name drop privacy and civil liberties advocates like EFF’s Mark Jaycox, former NSA whistleblowers like cryptographer William Binney, and of course America’s Founders, to make his case for surveillance reform. He was joined by Senator Mike Lee with a history lesson on The North Briton No. 45, and Senator Martin Heinrich giving a dramatic reading of the Fourth Amendment from the floor.

Paul filibustered a bill offered by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that would reauthorize section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Section 215 is the purported legal basis for the NSA’s dragnet collection of American’s phone records, and is scheduled to sunset, or expire, June 1.

However, by filibustering yesterday, Paul all but ensured that section 215 will not be reauthorized. The reason why is the arcane legislative procedures of the Senate. In brief, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell can’t bring his reauthorization bill to a vote without cloture, a procedural vote required to end debate and move to a vote on the underlying measure and any related amendments. After a cloture vote, the Senate gets 30 hours before the bill can be voted on up or down and to address any amendments offered. That brings us into, or even past, the weekend. But the House goes on recess after last votes today (expected to be completed by 3pm), and doesn’t come back until June 1, after section 215 sunsets.

So, by Paul filibustering up till midnight, and with time so tight, the Senate is left with a choice: either sunset 215 or pass USAFreedom as it is. But … and this is where Senator Paul diverges from some of his colleagues in the filibuster … Paul wants a robust discussion and amendment process for USA Freedom Act. Again, a variation on USA Freedom can’t be passed before the House leaves.

Through his filibuster, Paul has all but assured that 215 will sunset — at least until Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess in early June. At that point, some surveillance reform advocates fear that USA Freedom will be weakened further in a new negotiating round, or that McConnell and his allies will attempt again to extend 215 authorities unaltered.

Read the full post at Just Security