Rand Paul is Right. And Wrong.

Rand Paul is criticizing President Obama for not reining in the NSA’s blatantly unconstitutional data mining programs of his own accord, without waiting for Congress to do it. It’s actually worse than that, because he has actively opposed Congress setting limits on NSA surveillance. But he does get one thing wrong in this:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that President Barack Obama was being “disingenuous” about his ability to override the National Security Agency and end its bulk collection of data, arguing that in fact Obama could act on his own to end the program.

Paul said that because the NSA has sweeping authority under an executive order, Obama could act alone to curb the agency’s power.

“Here’s the thing about the president. He’s disingenuous about this. The president started this program through executive order. He could end it any time,” said Paul during an appearance on “CBS This Morning.” “The Second Court of Appeals, the court that is right below the Supreme Court, has said that it’s illegal. Why doesn’t he stop it? What’s he waiting for? He started it on his own, he should stop it. And I’ve asked the president repeatedly to stop the program.”

Paul, who is running for president in 2016, made similar comments on the floor of the Senate last week during a lengthy speech in which he made the case against extending the Patriot Act.

He’s wrong that the data mining began under Obama. It began under Bush, but Obama has done nothing to set any limitations on it. But the White House continues to obfuscate about this:

Speaking generally about Paul’s comments, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Obama could not unilaterally end bulk data collection.

“The authorities that are used by our national security professionals to keep us safe are authorities that are given to those national security professionals by the Congress, and those authorities can only be renewed by the United States Congress through an act of Congress,” Earnest said.

That’s very slippery. It’s true that only Congress can renew the authority upon which the executive branch claims the data mining programs are based, but as Paul noted, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled just a couple weeks ago that Section 215 of the Patriot Act does not actually authorize those programs (they did not, unfortunately, rule that any such mass data collection violates the 4th Amendment, which it obviously does). But even if Section 215 did allow wholesale data mining, that does not mean that the NSA has to do it.

At no time did Congress actually vote on data mining. What they did was pass a very large and broad law, one section of which has been used, very dishonestly, by both Bush and Obama to justify the data mining programs they authorized. The president has full authority to change his position that Section 215 gives legal authority to those programs and end them, entirely on his own. Obama is lying about this, just as he lied about the State Secrets Privilege. His record on illegal surveillance and civil liberties is at least as bad as Bush’s, and in some cases is worse. And Rand Paul is the only candidate from either party that will call him out on it.

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  • busterggi

    G’wan, Bush was never president!

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    Obama is right! Since when does the President have authority over an EXECUTIVE agency like the NSA??! He could no more order a halt to such collection than he could limit which illegal aliens get deported!

    .

    Well, he COULD order his Muslim sleeper agents to stop collecting data, but that would give away the game…

  • Abby Normal

    He’s right that the President started the program and could end the program. That the office changed stewards in between is inconsequential. But I can see how the phrasing could be seen to imply the current office holder was the one who started the program.

  • eric

    Rand Paul is the only candidate from either party that will call him out on it.

    Which probably just means he’s the only candidate being hypocritical about this particular issue. The other candidates are tacitly admitting they will use such powers as President. Paul says he won’t, but I doubt very much he would get in office and then set stringent policy limits on executive branch power.

    True, he’s coming from the legislative branch, so he should have a better appreciation of why a limited executive is a good thing. However, Obama came from the legislative branch too; it didn’t seem to help.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    And Rand Paul is the only candidate from either party that will call him out on it.

    How horrifying.