The relevant details are still elusive, but President Obama is reportedly prepared to propose sweeping changes to U.S. surveillance policy, including an end to the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection. The reforms will be dependent on congressional approval, but for privacy advocates and civil libertarians, the White House’s apparent intentions are most welcome.
But this is still silly.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he takes some credit for President Obama’s decision to end the National Security Agency’s metadata collection program.In an interview after Obama announced the change on Tuesday, Paul was asked on “Fox and Friends” if it would make him happy for phone companies, not the government, to retain the metadata.“Well, you know, I don’t want to take all the credit for ending this, but I think our lawsuit had something to do with bringing the president to the table,” Paul said.
Look, if Edward Snowden and his defenders want to take some credit for NSA reforms, they’re on solid ground. Putting aside the debate over the legality and propriety of his leaks, Snowden’s revelations obviously were dramatically consequential, caused an international controversy, and were directly responsible for the debate that led to the administration’s review.
If Glenn Greenwald, Barton Gellman, and other journalists responsible for reporting on NSA surveillance want to claim some credit, too, they also have a credible case to make, for many of the same reasons.
But for Rand Paul to toot his horn on Fox is just foolish.
For one thing, the senator’s timeline is badly flawed. President Obama delivered a speech in January ordering an internal review of possible changes to U.S. surveillance policy. When did Paul file his lawsuit? Nearly a month later.
In other words, according to Rand Paul, the president didn’t launch this process in response to a global firestorm, but rather, in anticipation of a stunt lawsuit from a senator that hadn’t even been filed yet.
For another, Paul’s lawsuit wasn’t exactly a credible effort. It was a redundant case, largely mirroring a case that had already been filed by someone else, and it was organized through the senator’s political campaign, rather than his official Senate office. (Supporters were supposed to endorse Paul’s lawsuit against “Big Brother” by giving the senator their name, address, zip code, and if they didn’t mind, credit card number.)
It’s very hard to believe the White House was scrambling to change their national-security policies in response to a Rand Paul p.r. stunt.
It makes sense that the senator is trying to turn this into a positive for him, but as a practical matter, if the reports are accurate and the administration is prepared to scrap the controversial NSA program, it’s not evidence of Paul winning; it’s evidence of Paul losing a fundraising stream.