Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appeared on CBS's This Morning Tuesday and was caught up in a heated debate over the National Security Agency's use of the phone and internet surveillance program PRISM. Sidestepping questions on whether to label the NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who revealed the existence and extent of the PRISM program, as a "hero or a traitor," Paul stated "the Bill of Rights are being violated, our privacy is being violated, and really no government should do this."
The conversation eventually boiled down to whether or not members of Congress were being hypocritical when complaining about the PRISM program and its overreaching surveillance authority. Norah O'Donnell asked Rand if he had attended any of the 22 briefings on PRISM, and if so, why he did not decide to speak out against the program earlier before the leak. Rand countered by saying that there was a gag order placed on the classified information surrounding PRISM and that speaking out would have landed him in jail. Rand also said that no member of Congress knew who was being investigated.
To use Rand's own words, Rand's strong views against PRISM were "a side point" to what was really wrong with his statement. As brought up in the interview, all three branches of government approved of the PRISM program. Yet Rand over and over ranted about how the president unilaterally had the power to access the personal information of any citizen, essentially claiming that the president bears the full guilt of such a program. But under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which the PRISM program is bound to, any activities of Prism are "subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch, and Congress."
Rand said that it his job to work within the law to enact change and correct this violation of rights. Yet it took an act of civil disobedience for Rand to talk openly about his views against the terrible surveillance state and take action on curbing its reach. In no way did Rand mention any previous action he or his colleagues took to try and stop the PRISM program before it was leaked. For Rand to claim that he is and has always been against PRISM but took no action within the law to change it does not bode well for the claim that the government can internally monitor itself. If Rand could not have made noise publicly due to a gag rule, surely he would have taken actions within Congress that he would be proud to announce publicly now that PRISM has been leaked.
Rand is not the only one that has been trying to shed all responsibility for this program. It seems like no branch of government will admit to doing anything illegal or that violated the rights of U.S. citizens. But the fact is that such a program with a frightening amount of power was allowed to legally exist by all three branches of government and that nothing was done internally to stop it. Now that it is out in public, who the blame should be pinned on is not as important because all three branches are to blame. Instead, the U.S. government should quickly take action to right this wrong and ensure that the rights of U.S. citizens are protected.