Big Brother makes strange bedfellows.
In another sign of mounting bipartisan opposition to government surveillance, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a leading tea party activist organization, the Tea Party Patriots, have joined forces to sponsor a week-long media blitz pressuring lawmakers to oppose legislation that would reauthorize the National Security Agency's controversial bulk data collection program.
The unlikely duo's television ads, which begin Tuesday in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Washington, D.C., call on Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) to help reform parts of the Patriot Act in order to rein in NSA surveillance of Americans. The provisions of the act that undergird the NSA's phone record surveillance powers expire on June 1. A federal court ruled this month that the agency's bulk collection of metadata -- information about domestic phone calls, but not their content -- is illegal. The three-judge panel declined, however, to order the government to stop the program while Congress debates the issue.
“It’s time for Congress to act to protect Americans’ privacy,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said in a press release Tuesday. “The courts have found the NSA’s collection and data-mining of citizens’ phone records illegal — now our legislators need to end these practices. It’s time for wholesale reform, not just tinkering around the edges.”
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 338-88 to take the power to store metadata away from the government and give it to telecom companies, which could then be subpoenaed by the government. The bipartisan, veto-proof majority leaves the Senate with little time and few options to challenge the USA Freedom Act before members of both chambers leave town at the end of the week and the provisions expire.
Opposition to surveillance has been the rare issue that has united Democrats and Republicans in recent months, as liberals and libertarians have come together to denounce what many see as an unconstitutional overreach by the federal government. In June 2013, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked thousands of classified documents to the media, revealing both domestic and global surveillance programs and fueling significant bipartisan backlash.
“The need to curtail the government’s intrusion into innocent Americans’ lives is a bipartisan issue,” Tea Party Patriots Co-Founder Jenny Beth Martin said in a statement. “That’s why the Tea Party Patriots is joining the ACLU in this important message to our lawmakers. The courts have spoken, the American people have spoken, and now Congress needs to act to end the overuse and abuse of government surveillance.”
The surveillance debate has divided the emerging 2016 Republican presidential field, however. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has made a commitment to civil liberties his calling card, gave a speech Monday saying "our Founding Fathers would be appalled to know we are writing one single warrant and collecting everyone’s phone records all of the time." Other 2016 Republican hopefuls, meanwhile, gave their full-throated support for surveillance. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio unveiled a new slogan, “Nothing matters if we aren’t safe," while New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called concerns about spying "ridiculous."