Supporters of the NSA’s large scale spying on the American people claim the program has made our country safer. Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
This week, I stood on the Senate floor for over 10 hours explaining just that. We should never give up our rights for a false sense of security, but supporters of the PATRIOT Act are also presenting voters with a false choice. This week, the Investigator General reported that the FBI has not cracked a single terrorist plot thanks to the invasive spying powers implanted under the PATRIOT Act. Let me reiterate that: even the most vocal defenders of the spying program have failed to identify a single thwarted plot.
When will we realize that trading liberty for security is a monumental mistake? The Revolutionary War was fought to protect against writs of assistance, general warrants written by soldiers not judges. Our Founding Fathers believed that the right to be left alone—the right to be secure in your own persons—is the most cherished of rights.
Politicians like Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Governors Jeb Bush and Scott Walker have all endorsed the NSA domestic surveillance program. Alone among presidential candidates, I am leading the fight to end this unconstitutional program. They are threatening our rights, freedoms, and privacy by encouraging the NSA to continue their warrantless tapping of American’s cell phones, and all without good reason.
Two independent, bipartisan presidential commissions have now said that not a single terrorist has been caught or terrorist plot stopped by this program. The only thing this program is stopping is the freedom and right to privacy of law-abiding citizens. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recognized this infringement and deemed the NSA spying program to be illegal. Additionally, a recent Pew Research Poll shows that a majority of Americans want the PATRIOT Act changed.
These politicians claim there is ‘ample evidence’ that bulk data collection of law-abiding citizens has played a major part in our anti-terrorist efforts. This is simply not true, when the facts have been independently reviewed by private and public organizations.
In a report issued Thursday, the Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said that between 2004 and 2009, the FBI tripled its use of bulk collection under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Section 215 allows for secret court orders to collect “tangible things” that could be relevant to a government investigation—a far lower threshold and more expansive reach than a warrant based on probable cause. The list of possible “tangible things” the government can obtain without a warrant is seemingly limitless and can include things like driver license records and Internet browsing history.
Though the invasive program was tripled, FBI agents can’t point to any major terrorism cases they’ve cracked thanks to the key snooping powers in the PATRIOT Act.
Earlier this year, the court of appeals for the Second Circuit deemed this bulk collection of data to be illegal, writing in the opinion that the program was an “unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans.” The court judged the program’s premise as ineffectual, stating, “the records demanded are all‐encompassing; the government does not even suggest that all of the records sought, or even necessarily any of them, are relevant.”
The American people agree with the FBI and the Second Circuit. According to a Pew Research poll, “93 percent said being in control of who can get information about them is important to them, and a similar number said they want to decide with whom they share data.”
If elected officials are going to violate the Fourth Amendment and collect private information on Americans who haven’t done anything wrong, they should at least be able to give a reason for it. Otherwise, get a warrant.