In a move that should be getting more notice this week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has thrown down the gauntlet over the renewal of the Patriot Act, provisions of which would expire Friday if not extended.
Paul has offered several "controversial" amendments to the bill, and could single-handedly cause the Patriot Act to lapse for a day, The Hill reported today.
What are these so-called "controversial" changes to the post-9/11 act -- which expanded governmental search powers -- that Paul wants?
"Controversial" things like requiring the government seek a judge's approval before conducting a search of someone's credit cards, emails, library books, bank statements, and business records or conducting a "roving wiretap," and requiring the government to actually come up with probable cause before searching such records or executing such wiretaps.
Where did Paul get the notion for these "controversial" demands? The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
In Paul's view, you don't have to be a constitutional scholar to understand the above stanza. You just have to be able to read.
Interestingly enough, President Barack Obama, when he was a senator like Paul, also took issue with these provisions of the Patriot Act. You can read the text of his 2005 letter on the subject here.
At the heart of the debate over the Patriot Act is a conflict between liberty and security. How much freedom from government searches should we give up to make sure we aren't victims of another terrorist attack?
On the Senate floor, Paul argued that's a false dichotomy and searching records without probable cause could actually make us less safe, as it wastes time from legitimate suspects.
"You can be opposed to terrorists ... but we can do it with a process that protects the innocent," Paul said.
Senate Major Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), apparently frustrated by Paul's opposition, is now attempting an end run around Paul in what Fox News dubbed "procedural gymnastics."
"Sen. Reid basically killed his current bill and and opted to take up a House small business bill (it's in a form that's considered filibuster-proof as far as starting debate goes)," Fox reports.
Paul might succeed in causing the Patriot Act to lapse, but Reid will likely win in the end.
But win or lose, Rand Paul has emerged as our country's face of Fourth Amendment advocacy. The First Amendment has the ACLU. The Second Amendment has the NRA. And the Fourth Amendment has Rand Paul.
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