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Another View -- Rand Paul: Fighting terror without sacrificing liberty

January 05. 2016 12:36AM

Recent revelations that the Obama administration abused the powers of the National Security Agency and spied on members of Congress is exactly why we need immediate reform of our government’s lawless surveillance.

Here is what we know: During the Iran nuclear negotiations, the Obama administration and NSA spied on Israeli officials during their communications with Congressional members. That the White House went out of their way to avoid creating a record of its effort to stifle political dissent is itself an admission of guilt.

Such a breach of trust is shockingly counterproductive to achieving a united diplomatic front with key allies — and the dangerous politicization of our national security state of which I have warned for so long.

We must end this national security spying that is an assault on our Constitution. We must protect our rights as Americans from politically expedient politicians who are quick to sacrifice our liberties in exchange for enhancing their own power.

We saw this most recently in the aftermath of the deadly ISIS attack in San Bernardino that killed 14 Americans. Democrats and Republicans alike were quick to exploit the tragedy. While Democrats saw it as an opportunity to undermine our Second Amendment rights, some Republicans have been determined to use this attack to undermine our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. Conservatives should not emulate the governing tactic of the left by relying on misinformation and fear.

Sweeping bulk data collection simply doesn’t work. Spying on Americans failed to stop the underwear bomber or the Boston Marathon attack. In both circumstances, the FBI and other officials received tips of suspicious activity, but with billions of innocent Americans’ phone calls to worry about, they did not have the time or the resources to sift through the data that was actually important, and real threats went undetected. In France — despite having a data collection system that is much more intrusive than the U.S — French authorities failed to stop one of the largest, well-orchestrated attacks on the West launched by ISIS.

When it comes to detecting terrorist activity in advance, bulk data collection actually makes us less safe. A computational ecologist recently studied the issue and wrote that even a very accurate algorithm for identifying terrorist communications could produce about 10,000 false positives for every real “hit.” “The false positives will kill you in this kind of system,” a security technologist told The Wall Street Journal. Even Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper admitted that bulk data collection may not be effective, while insisting that it is useful for the sake of the “peace of mind” of the public.

This is absurd. Instead of playing on the voters’ fears, we need to provide accurate information about the nature of the threats we face, and what we can realistically do to combat it.

Let’s spy on more terrorists and not on innocent Americans. I reject the premise that our Constitution does not work as it is written and that we must choose between having the Bill of Rights and national security. Our nation did not become the most powerful nation in the world because we abandoned our Second and Fourth Amendment rights when outside forces threatened us in ways even more menacing than we now face. It’s time for conservatives to push for a national security approach that focuses on our common enemy, rather than on the rights and liberties of the American people.


Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) is a candidate for President.

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