On Monday the GW College Republicans, College Democrats, and Young America’s Foundation hosted a discussion between Sens. Rand Paul and Ron Wyden on government surveillance, privacy, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Paul began the discussion by outlining historical groundwork for the modern issues of personal privacy and national security. He also noted the relevance of a current Supreme Court case, Carpenter v. United States, which will address whether the warrantless search and seizure of cell phone records violates the Fourth Amendment.
Both senators emphasized the importance of bipartisan cooperation, noting that they agree on issues related to security and privacy. Paul added that frequent characterizations of Congress as lacking civility are not entirely accurate.
Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, and Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, collaborated on a proposal in October which would reform surveillance programs within the National Security Agency (NSA). The existing law, referred to as Section 702, is directed at collecting data from foreign targets. However, it also allows the government to search the data of Americans who may have communicated with those individuals. The goal of the senators’ proposal was to modify this existing framework by requiring investigators to obtain warrants before searching Americans’ data.
Paul noted that a lower standard is necessary for foreign surveillance but that the same guidelines should not be applicable in the United States. He emphasized that data collection involving Americans needs to meet Constitutional standards. Paul also challenged the “third-party doctrine,” which holds that people who voluntarily give information to third parties such as phone companies do not expect their data to remain private.
Paul and Wyden both expressed that there should be increased oversight of government data collection programs. Wyden alluded to the “gang of eight,” referring to the limited group of congressional leaders who receive briefings on classified intelligence affairs. The senators also said that the government tends to overclassify documents, making oversight unnecessarily difficult. Wyden added that the classification process has been “flagrantly abused by both parties” for political aims.
In response to a question about the aging demographics of Congress and the Supreme Court, Wyden said that “the key is to know what you don’t know,” adding that legislators and justices should be willing to ask questions about digital issues.
Throughout the discussion, both senators expressed that it is possible to maintain national security without encroaching upon Americans’ privacy or Constitutional rights. To applause from the audience, Wyden asserted, “security and liberty should not be mutually exclusive.”