Despite bipartisan support on the Hill for the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, some prominent senators are speaking up against what they see as government overreach. If any one of these policymakers actually wants to make a difference though, they should read the leaked reports on the Senate floor.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has already said he is considering a Supreme Court challenge to the National Security Agency's surveillance programs that he called both an "extraordinary invasion of privacy" and an "astounding assault on the Constitution." Democratic Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have also expressed their discomfort with the program.
The PRISM documents have already been released, meaning the risks associated with reading them on the Senate floor are minimal and so is the required political courage. Both the risk and courage to act are far less than, for example, those of Edward Snowden who leaked the reports, and has since fled to Hong Kong to evade possible prosecution for treason.
Snowden told the Guardian in an interview that he believes he will be charged with treason under the Espionage Act. Legal experts have noted though that such a charge would require proof of an intent to betray the United States. Snowden has said his "sole motive" was to inform the public and spur debate.
A senator however would not be charged today because the information has already been made public, and because of the Speech or Debate Clause in the Constitution. The Clause, originally meant to prevent the president from arresting congressmen going to vote, says that: "[Congressmen] shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony, and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place."
In 1971, before Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers — secret government documents pertaining to the Vietnam War — to the New York Times, he first approached members of congress about publishing the documents under the protection of the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution, all of who refused. After the leak, they were eventually read by then Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) who inserted the 4,100 pages of the papers into the Congressional Record of his subcommittee.
Sen. Rand Paul, the most vocal congressman on the issue, should use this as an opportunity to stand by his word and take a significant political action. Especially in consideration of the 2016, a lawsuit and the entering of the PRISM documents into the public record will show that Paul stands by his principles and is willing to act to enforce them.