NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden on Thursday praised Sen. Rand Paul’s ten-and-a-half hour takeover of the Senate floor on Wednesday in protest of the Patriot Act.
Snowden, whose revelations about mass surveillance two years ago may finally result in reform legislation this week, said in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” discussion that Paul’s action “represents a sea change from a few years ago, when intrusive new surveillance laws were passed without any kind of meaningful opposition or debate.”
Paul, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, spent much of his time on the floor criticizing the massive surveillance regime that Snowden exposed by leaking top-secret documents to journalists.
It was all for show — Paul’s self proclaimed “filibuster” (minibuster? fauxbuster?) had no practical effect on upcoming Senate votes, although it did give his presidential campaign a boost. The Senate is due to vote in the next several days on the USA Freedom Act, which passed the House overwhelmingly last week, and which would eliminate one — but only one — of the programs Snowden disclosed: the bulk collection of domestic phone records.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he would prefer to simply renew the three Patriot Act provisions that expire on June 1, including the one that officials say justifies the bulk collection, but he is in a small minority, and his proposal may not even come to a vote.
Whatever you think about Rand Paul or his politics, it’s important to remember that when he took the floor to say “No” to any length of reauthorization of the Patriot Act, he was speaking for the majority of Americans — more than 60% of whom want to see this kind of mass surveillance reformed or ended.
He was joined by several other senators who disagree with the Senate Majority leader’s efforts to sneak through a reauthorization of what courts just weeks ago declared was a comprehensively unlawful program, and if you notice that yours did not take to the floor with him, you should call them right now (1-920-END-4-215) and ask them to vote against any extension of the Patriot Act, because the final vote is being forced during the dark of a holiday weekend to shield them from criticism.
Snowden, who appeared on Reddit from Moscow, shared the online discussion with ACLU Deputy Director Jameel Jaffer.
In response to one commenter who noted that Paul was his senator, Snowden wrote:
If Paul is your Senator, then Mitch McConnell is also from your state. He’s the one spearheading the effort to reauthorize the same program the Second Circuit just ruled is unlawful.
Don’t send an email, make his phone ring. (ACLU tells me you can get your senator from any phone via 1-920-END-4-215)
Snowden urged readers “to correct misinformation whenever you see this topic being debated.” He even supplied his own bullet points:
- Supporters of mass surveillance say it keeps us safe. The problem is that that’s an allegation, not a fact, and there’s no evidence at all to support the claim. In fact, a White House review with unrestricted access to classified information found that not only is mass surveillance illegal, it has never made a concrete difference in even one terrorism investigation.
- Some claim the Senate should keep Section 215 of the Patriot Act (which will be voted on in two days) because we need “more time for debate,” but even in the US, the public has already decided: 60% oppose reauthorization. This unconstitutional mass surveillance program was revealed in June 2013 and has been struck down by courts twice since then. If two years and two courts aren’t enough to satisfy them, what is?
- A few try to say that Section 215 is legal. It’s not. Help them understand.
- The bottom line is we need people everywhere — in the US, outside the US, and especially within their own communities — to push back and challenge anybody defending these programs. More than anything, we need to ordinary people to make it clear that a vote in favor of the extension or reauthorization of mass surveillance authorities is a vote in favor of a program that is illegal, ineffective, and illiberal.
Asked if he thought the government might continue with the collection of bulk phone records despite losing what it says is its legal authority for doing so, Snowden replied:
There are always reasons to be concerned that regardless of the laws passed, some agencies in government (FBI, NSA, CIA, and DEA, for example, have flouted laws in the past) will miscontrue the intent of Congress in passing limiting laws — or simply disregard them totally. For example, the DOJ’s internal watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report claiming, among other abuses, that it could simply refuse to tell government oversight bodies what exactly it was doing, so the legality or illegality of their operations simply couldn’t be questioned at all.
However, that’s no excuse for the public or Congress to turn a blind eye to unlawful or immoral operations — and the kind of mass surveillance happening under Section 215 of the Patriot Act right now is very much unlawful: the Courts ruled just two weeks ago that not only are these activities illegal, but they have been since the day the programs began.
And asked if, during his now-famous interview with John Oliver, Oliver had really handed him a “picture of his junk” (you simply must watch the segment, if you haven’t already), Snowden replied with a unicode emoticon known as a “Lenny Face“: