NSA, Bulk Collection, and Security

For now, there is no bill extending in any form the NSA’s ability to bulk collect metadata about our telephone calls. The House-passed bill that would have kept those data in phone company possession and NSA-searchable under explicit court order failed in the Senate Friday, as did any effort to extend the existing capability, for any duration. At this point, the House and Senate are in Memorial Day recess and won’t return until the 31st. With the collection authority expiring on 1 June, that leaves the House and Senate only a few hours to figure something out or leave the thing expired.

Senator and Presidential Candidate Rand Paul (R, KY) said in the aftermath,

We should never give up our rights for a false sense of security. This is only the beginning—the first step of many. I will continue to do all I can until this illegal government spying program is put to an end, once and for all.

For all his braggadocio, Paul is right on the essence of this.

There is, and there always will be, creep; there is always expansion of government power, if not authority, no matter the good intentions for the original expansion. The best place to draw the line against further creep, the only effective place to draw the line, is at zero. The Constitution has transferred to government all the fraction of our liberty necessary; there need be no further transfer.

We can have security by giving up (some more) liberty? No. There is no security at all without liberty. The House-passed bill would have been a suitable intermediate step in winding down the bulk collection, and it should have been passed: a sudden disruption of the NSA’s necessary intelligence gathering can be dangerous. At best, though, it should have been taken as only that, and additional measures taken to complete the winding down.

Update: An earlier version of this post foolishly referred to Senator Paul as “Ron.”  That error has been corrected.

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