Rand Paul Wired Magazine: Talking Drones, Silicon Valley, and Internet Security

In an interview with Wired magazine’s Spencer Ackerman Thursday afternoon, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) covered a few topics both inside and outside of the tech industry, and talked about his imminent tour of Silicon Valley.

To start off, the two discussed Paul’s 13-hour talking filibuster in March against the confirmation of counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan to the post of director of the CIA.  Paul restated in the interview that he staged the filibuster both to call attention to the potential threat to civil liberties and disregard towards due process that drone warfare threatened, as well as to form a congressional coalition that would deal with other issues of civil liberties.

Which is where the issue of government regulation of the internet comes in. One of Paul’s current causes is pushing through a bill in the Senate that mirrors a proposed email privacy law in Texas. The bill would require the government to obtain a warrant before accessing a person’s email, closing a loophole in current legislation that allows the government to read anyone’s email once it has been opened or remains unopened on a server after six months. While Paul’s emphasis on bringing the right and left together on this issue makes sense, as protecting the constitutional right to privacy isn’t restricted by party lines, it might have as much to do with his future aspirations as his personal views.

When asked about his message to Facebook and Google regarding internet privacy, two of the companies he’s slated to meet with in his Silicon Valley tour, Paul drew the very clear distinction between privacy from corporations themselves in exchange for services, and privacy from the government. While many users have been unnerved by both companies’ handling of personal privacy, namely Google’s privacy policy change last year and Facebook’s targeted advertising, according to Paul, whatever providers of a service choose to do with consumer information and their customers agree to is a fair exchange for the service itself. But, he did make it very clear that he would implore both companies to act ethically and keep personal information from the government, given that they currently cannot be sued for giving over subscriber information to the government under the Patriot Act. He also hopes to rally support for his email privacy bill, which he does not expect to be an issue given that this issue is universally compelling.

Playing up the cross-party appeal of his civil liberties policies, as well as reaching out to Silicon Valley and establishing himself as a more reasonable candidate in California, is certainly a shrewd move on Paul’s part. Though Paul stated that he won’t come to any definitive decision on running for president for at least another year, this outreach could be seen as another attempt to style himself as a moderate with wider appeal than more traditional Republican candidates. And while Paul’s views are far from meshing completely with mostly liberal Silicon Valley (he managed to sidestep the question about his blunders in past dealings with issues of race), his efforts to have the government confront the legal ramifications and potential abuse of drone warfare have drawn support from both sides, and for good reason.

Whatever Paul decides to do come 2016, his moves to ingratiate himself with Silicon Valley, and establish a base in California, certainly couldn’t hurt. 

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Joseph Frankel

New Yorker and student at Brown University interested in Neuroscience, Literature, and issues of public health and social justice.

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