The week just keeps getting better for Edward Snowden and his like-minded, anti-surveillance compatriots. The Republican National Committee passed a resolution Friday urging Republicans in Congress to pass legislation that would restrict the National Security Agency’s sweeping data-collecting muscle.
The short, 500-word proclamation espouses several libertarian ideals before asking Republican lawmakers to form a special committee to investigate domestic surveillance practices and “hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.”
“The Republican National Committee encourages Republican lawmakers to enact legislation to amend Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, the state-secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make it clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity, phone records, and correspondence — electronic, physical, and otherwise — of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court.”
The resolution bleeds with conviction, but also could signal a libertarian-leaning shift in the way Republican operatives hope to appeal to voters in coming elections. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus spoke Friday at the group’s winter meeting in Washington of the GOP’s need to “set a new standard” and be more “conscious of the tone” the party strikes on policy issues. While no doubt a response to Mike Huckabee’s remarks Thursday that Democrats believe “women can’t control their libidos,” Priebus and other party leaders are looking broadly at ways to connect to an electorate they’re frequently charged with not being in touch with.
The platform is sure to be seen as a boon for the libertarian wing of the GOP and is likely a good sign for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a potential 2016 presidential hopeful whose criticisms of government surveillance have perhaps been unrivaled since Snowden’s leaks began last June.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, is the only lawmaker to earn a namedrop in the resolution, which cites his condemnation of the government’s interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act as “an abuse of the law.” Sensenbrenner authored the post-9/11 Patriot Act, which he has repeatedly said has been misinterpreted by both the Bush and Obama administrations to justify ever-increasing collection of data vis-a-vis Section 215’s definition of records “relevant” to a terrorism investigation.
He is now championing the Freedom Act, which aims to reduce bulk data collection, install a public advocate in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and limit Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a 2008 provision allowing government to collect Internet communications from people believed to be living outside the United States.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board this week blasted the government’s use of Section 215 for allowing collection of “information without limit” and recommended the NSA’s collection of telephone metadata be terminated. Last week Obama outlined a series of reforms that would preserve the program but would take retention of the data out of the hands of the government and place it instead with private phone companies or some still-undefined third-party entity.
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