The USA Patriot Act is coming up for renewal, and one senator wants to remind us how the controversial law impacts our digital lives. Rand Paul, a Republican senator and 2016 presidential hopeful, is using the occasion to protest the digital surveillance enabled by the Patriot Act–by rambling on the Senate floor as long as he possibly can.
Though the speech is not delaying consideration of any bill and therefore not technically a filibuster (despite Paul’s Twitter account labeling it so), Paul is using the speech to criticize domestic spying by the National Security Agency, which he called “a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment.” The bulk collection of data on U.S. phone calls was recently ruled to be illegal by a federal appeals court.
The provision of the Patriot Act in question is known as Section 251, which the federal government has interpreted to allow them to collect data about U.S. phone calls in bulk. That provision is set to expire on June 1, hence the renewed focus in Congress.
The law’s expiration comes two years after NSA contractor Edward Snowden first revealed the extent of domestic surveillance being undertaken by U.S. intelligence agencies, often with the help of U.S. technology companies and telecommunications providers. It also comes as the public’s confidence in privacy is at a low: Only 6% of Americans are “very confident” that government agencies are able to keep their personal data secure, according to a survey released by Pew Research Center today. Telephone companies fared only slightly better, with 9% of consumers feeling “very confident” in the privacy of their data.