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  1. Opinion

Commentary: Surveillance contradicts our Constitution

Rand Paul
Rand Paul
Published May 22, 2015

This country was founded on the notion of liberty. It was the spark that started a revolution, the fire that forged our Constitution and the energy that has fueled our ascent to the great nation we are today. It is a word that is as synonymous with the United States as "red, white and blue." So it is striking to us that we have reached a point in our history when the expectation of privacy and liberty is dissolving.

In our constitutional republic, the burden is on the government to prove why it is justified in encroaching upon the rights of the citizens. The fact that intelligence organizations have the audacity to spy and collect information on American citizens — invading our privacy — shakes the very core of who we are as a nation.

Our founders wisely drafted a Constitution that would remain steadfast — even as political parties and presidents come and go. And with the Constitution comes protections for every citizen of this great country.

One of these protections — against unreasonable searches and seizures — is rooted in the Fourth Amendment. Despite the requirement that warrants must be specific and based on probable cause, the government's surveillance programs often undermine these constitutional standards. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court proceedings, where these warrants are granted, take place behind closed doors where records are hidden. These actions have essentially led to a rubber stamp for increased government surveillance on Americans. These secret, one-sided proceedings leave our citizens vulnerable, with no one to advocate on their behalf.

We oppose the most recent, watered-down version of the USA Freedom Act because it does not protect our citizens against unconstitutional surveillance. We need to go back to the basics and use the Fourth Amendment as our guide. This would include ending bulk collection; increasing transparency; improving advocacy for privacy; and closing the Section 702 back-door loophole, to name a few.

Given the appeals court's recent ruling that bulk collection is illegal and was never intended by Congress, the law is firmly on our side. We do not have to choose between the bad and the worse. We fear that passage of the USA Freedom Act into law will provide the court with the statutory basis to continue this mass surveillance.

Today, most Americans are dependent on their cellphones and emails. Everything we do can be monitored through these records. While technology evolves, the Constitution must endure.

Some of our colleagues will argue that this is a matter of national security, and thus the government is justified. We, however, align more with our founders and their desire for liberty.

While we believe U.S. intelligence should keep a close watch on suspected terrorists, the U.S. Constitution should not be trampled in the process. We too want a strong national defense and believe we should actively pursue potential terrorists and threats — but we must do so within the bounds of the Constitution.

This administration and some government officials think that violating American citizens' right to privacy is essential for national security. This proves just how out of touch and out of control our government has become. The National Security Agency's bulk collection of data represents the worst of the Washington Machine, and we will continue to do everything we can to stop it.

We took our oath of office seriously, and above all, it is our duty as members of Congress to protect, preserve, and defend our citizens and our Constitution.

Rand Paul is a U.S. senator from Kentucky and a Republican candidate for president. Ted Yoho is a congressman who represents Florida's 3rd District, which includes Gainesville. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.