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Surveillance Dispute Prompts Rare Spectacle at US Senate

  • Michael Bowman

In this image from Senate video, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and a Republican presidential contender, speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday afternoon, May 20, 2015, at the Capitol in Washington, during a long speech opposing renewal of the Patriot A

In this image from Senate video, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and a Republican presidential contender, speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday afternoon, May 20, 2015, at the Capitol in Washington, during a long speech opposing renewal of the Patriot A

A U.S. lawmaker halted Senate proceedings Wednesday by exercising his right to speak uninterrupted on the chamber floor as long as he is physically capable of doing so.

Republican Rand Paul began a “talking filibuster” to protest any congressional attempt to renew the Patriot Act, a law enacted after the attacks of September 11, 2001, that grants the U.S. government broad powers to probe and prevent terrorist plots.

Paul continued to talk for 10½ straight hours before relinquishing the Senate floor.

“I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged,” Paul said at the beginning of what promised to be the most extensive floor remarks of any senator so far this year. “There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer."

Paul, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, is an outspoken critic of the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records, a program recently ruled illegal by a federal appeals court and which ultimately could be decided by the Supreme Court unless Congress reforms it.

House bill

Last week, the House of Representatives voted to keep such records in the hands of telecommunications companies unless the NSA gets a court order to review them.

That bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell favors reauthorizing the NSA program, which expires at the end of the month.

Paul strenuously objects to extending the program, and has hinted that the House-passed bill does not go far enough to rein in the government’s snooping abilities.

“The bulk collection of all Americans’ phone records all of the time is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment [to the U.S. Constitution],” Paul said.

This was not Paul’s first talking filibuster. In 2013, he railed for 13 consecutive hours against the government’s use of drones.

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