Much of the nation is riveted by Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old behind a bombshell of government surveillance secrets, but the longest-serving independent lawmaker is trying to keep the focus on constitutional questions Snowden’s leaks have raised.
“Here’s what the issue is: are we comfortable...with the fact the every single telephone call that we make is on record with the United States government?” said Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on msnbc Tuesday. “Is that what the Fourth Amendment is about? Is that what freedom is about? Is that what democracy is about? I happen to believe that terrorism is a very real threat to this country. But I also believe that we can effectively fight terrorism without undermining the basic civil liberties of this country.”
The 71-year-old independent and staunch Patriot Act opponent implied that technological advancements could soon enable the government to foster an “Orwellian society,” where virtually everything is carefully monitored and recorded. (For what it’s worth, sales of George Orwell’s 1984 have risen about 6,000% according to Amazon's list of "Movers and Shakers," thanks in part to references like Sander’s.)
The lawmaker’s comments came just before news broke that the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program. The suit argues essentially the same thing as Sanders--that the government snooping program violates the First Amendment right of free speech as well as the right of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment. The complaint also charges that the program exceeds the authority that Congress provided through the Patriot Act.
“The remedy is to tighten up that act,” said Sanders, one of the few lawmakers who consistently voted against the Patriot Act, which was first approved by Congress in 2001 and then reauthorized in 2006 and 2011. Section 215 of the law is what allowed the NSA to obtain millions of Americans’ phone records.
“We don’t want police officers stopping everybody walking down the street,” said Sanders. “You have to have a reason to stop somebody. That’s what the Constitution of the United States is about. That’s what the Bill of Rights is about.”