Reining in the surveillance state

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[Commentary] Sen Rand Paul’s (R-KY) strong libertarian principles have always differentiated him from many of his Republican colleagues. His outspokenness has many liberals and leftists asking a legitimate question: Why aren’t there more Democratic voices opposing the surveillance state?

Protecting civil liberties should be a critical piece of the progressive platform, but too many establishment Democrats and progressives have been silent on this issue simply because one of their own is in the White House.

Some Democrats in Congress have taken bold stands. Longtime civil-liberties champion (and former House Judiciary Committee chair) John Conyers has worked to limit the National Security Agency’s collection of bulk telephone data. Reps Keith Ellison of (D-MN) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) have probed the administration’s drone and surveillance programs. Rep Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) is pushing to prevent the NSA from weakening online encryption. In the Senate, Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has held oversight hearings questioning excessive surveillance. Even Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and normally a committed defender of the intelligence community, finally spoke out after discovering that the CIA spied on Senate staffers. And recently, Sens Mark Udall (D-NM) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., strongly criticizing a “culture of misinformation” that has resulted in “misleading statements . . . about domestic surveillance.” And Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has proposed a bill limiting FBI and NSA spying.

Still, too many Democrats and even progressives are reluctant to challenge the Obama Administration, either because they don’t want to criticize a besieged president or because they’re focused on other priorities. As they stay silent, a host of troubling policies, including the assassination of US citizens without due process, the prosecution of record numbers of journalists and whistleblowers, the unaccountable growth of the surveillance state and the vast expansion of the drone program, are proliferating unchecked.

Reining in the surveillance state