Kentucky Senator Rand Paul took the US Senate floor on Wednesday afternoon and tweeted “I’ve just taken the Senate floor to begin a filibuster of the Patriot Act renewal. It’s time to end the NSA spying!” at 1:18 pm EDT (5:18 pm GMT).
He did not step down until just before midnight, after speaking for ten and a half hours.
While the protest speech is not technically a filibuster - it did not delay consideration of any bill - it nevertheless attracted attention to Paul’s libertarian politics and his concerns about privacy, and may help him stand out from his rivals during his presidential run.
Rand Paul has previously filibustered to voice his opposition to US military drone use on American soil in March 2013. The almost 13-hour speech turned him into a civil libertarian star and carried US drone policy to the front pages of national newspapers.
This time in his opposition to the Patriot Act he is joined by the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz, another presidential contender, while their rival Sen. Marco Rubio says he finds the Patriot Act a critical component in the US fight against terrorism.
Signed into law by George W. Bush following the Sept. 11 attacks, the USA PATRIOT Act ("Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001") allows government agencies more leeway in conducting investigations while - opponents have claimed - violating the Fourth Amendment rights of US citizens.
Although the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause, the Patriot Act has been used to justify bulk collection of data about Americans’ phone calls and other surveillance programmes.
Three provisions, the most divisive being Section 215, are set to expire on June 1 unless Congress renews them either in their current form or in revised versions.
A US appeals court concluded on May 6 that the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata exceeded the scope of what Congress authorised under Section 215 and was therefore illegal.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) said he aims to extend provisions of the Patriot Act as it is through to 2020, but he faces strong opposition from both his fellow Republicans and Democrats, as the Patriot Act became a matter of controversy when NSA’s massive surveillance programme was revealed in 2013 by Edward Snowden.