March 11, 2014 2 Comments
Last Saturday I ran the video of Rand Paul’s speech at CPAC, you’ll find it here. In it he talked a good deal about the 4th Amendment, which states
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.
Like nearly everything in our Constitution it’s written in plain English and can only be misread with malice aforethought. It was also one of the main causes of the Revolution, when Royal Governors started issuing general search warrants in their attempts to control the colonists. Personally, I have a lot of trouble seeing how you go from that to reading every e-mail communication, having a picture of every envelope in the US Mail and knowing even the metadata, let alone the contents of every celphone conversation in the United States. It just doesn’t track for me. Or for Senator Paul, it seems.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t need signal intelligence (SIGINT) on foreign countries or even non state actors. Why wouldn’t we copy any foreign communications and attempt to obtain cleartext from them? NSA was for many years a completely black organization, even more than CIA, and it was very non-controversial. Nobody in the modern world thinks with Elihu Root that “gentlemen don’t.read each other’s mail”. Well actually, we do but, it depends a good deal on your definition of a gentlemen. Mine wouldn’t include Putin, or al Qaeda for instance. I doubt Senator Paul’s does either.
But there is a difference between that and the average American citizen, if you want their information, get a proper warrant.
But I’m seeing far too many security people conflating between American citizens and foreign (or even domestic) enemies. This seems to happen, even to men of good will, who are exemplary citizens. One such case is Jonathan S. Tobin writing in Commentary Magazine. Here’s an excerpt.
Coming as it did after days of speeches from other conservatives that centered on Obama’s weakness in the face of international terror and Russian aggression as well as concerns about social issues and economic and the need to address the concerns of working people and the poor, Paul changed the subject. In his speech, the Kentucky senator centered on one subject: the threat to civil liberties from an intrusive government. In Rand Paul’s world al-Qaeda and Vladimir Putin are mere annoyances; the real foe is the National Security Agency and its metadata mining.
There are two conclusions can be drawn from this speech that was cheered to the echo by the audience at CPAC. One is that if CPAC activists are a representative sample of the grass roots of the Republican Party (a debatable but not outlandish assumption), there’s little question that Paul has a leg up on the 2016 presidential race. The other is that if those cheers mean that if it’s Rand’s GOP then it is a party with little chance to win in two years no matter what happens in November 2014. As much as Paul’s soaring rhetoric about liberty resonates with the party’s base — and indeed with most Republicans — his obsessive antagonism to national security issues and disinterest in a strong American foreign policy is likely to help doom the GOP to permanent minority status.
In my opinion, this goes like so much in recent government to the Rule of Law, and is not a credit to a free country. In fact it reminds me of Ben Franklin’s famous motto:
They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety,
deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.