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Sen. Rand Paul says he's suing over NSA policies (ap.org)
109 points by ColinWright 1296 days ago | hide | past | web | 70 comments | favorite

It looks like this submission with the correct spelling of the Senator's name in the submission headline will get more traction for discussion of the substantive issues in the story. I'll begin, and I look forward to comments by other Hacker News participants.

United States Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon[1] and United States Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky[2] run for election with the endorsement of different political parties, and have plenty of other differences on issues of public policy, but they are agreed that NSA surveillance programs need to be reviewed for legality. That's a demonstration that there is a reasonably broad base of support among the American public for taking a second look at how government intelligence programs have been operating recently, and perhaps revising the legal framework for regulating those programs. The large volume of lawsuits connected to NSA surveillance pretty much guarantees that the Supreme Court will consider the issue after the various trial court and intermediate appellate court decisions in different cases have shed light on the issues.

[1] http://www.wyden.senate.gov/

[2] http://www.paul.senate.gov/

That's a demonstration that there is a reasonably broad base of support among the American public for taking a second look at how government intelligence programs have been operating recently, and perhaps revising the legal framework for regulating those programs.

I don't think that's accurate. This just happens to be one of those issues where the traditional left/right spectrum breaks down. Paul comes from the libertarian wing of the GOP, and Wyden is perhaps best described as a small government liberal. Together they represent not insignificant minorities within their own parties, but nothing like a broad bipartisan base. You wouldn't say Paul Ryan's Medicare plan had a broad base of support just because Wyden was associated with it (more or less, depending on whose talking points you're reading).

"Barack Obama's NSA". What a disappointment is Rand Paul. How about making this about America instead of an unfair attack on a single president? Standing above partisanship will pay dividends to a political career in the end. This is the sort of crap that tells me never to support Rand Paul.

Yes, Obama could do something about the NSA, but so could Congress and so could have Bush. This is everyone's NSA.

Flagged for being simple political posturing instead of a legitimate push for change.

You aren't supposed to flag things because they go against your political agenda. You flag things for breaking the rules of HN. This is interesting news and judging by the number of votes it has it is interesting for most hackers which makes it proper news for this forum. People like you who flag things that go against their own agenda are the reason we can't have discussions about microsoft (these are flagged off the front page all of the time) or anything else the hive mind doesn't find correct. Basically, I am saying you are ruining this website.

Agreed. You aren't even supposed to downvote submissions because of political disagreement. But flagging? That's ridiculous -- you're potentially wasting moderator time because you disagree with the politics of the submission.

Flagging is meant to be used very selectively for spam and other submissions that blatantly flout the site's guidelines.

GP, please don't misuse flagging like this again.

Not taking a side on this but if

"Flagging is meant to be used very selectively for ..."

...then there should be a pop up when someone goes to flag that says "Note: Are you aware that flagging is meant for .... do you still want to flag??".

Many people don't know the "rules?" on HN even if they have been around for some time. For that matter upvotes and downvotes aren't clearly defined. And that whole "in short anything that satisfies ones curiousity" can reach far and wide.

And doing the right thing isn't solely a RTFM either. The "FM" is not really something that people familiarize themselves with or keep on top of. (Commenting and reading HN isn't a job obviously.) If certain behavior needs to be enforced (not saying it does or doesn't) then something has to be in place ad hoc to make it more likely to happen.

This was not for political disagreement. It was because the article as about transparent political showmanship, which IMO does not meet the standards of the site.

I did not flag it because it goes against my political views. I flagged because it is run-of-the-mill political showmanship, not legitimate news.

Its a good strategic move. The way to build support against the NSA among Republicans is to associate it with Obama. "This isn't Reagan's NSA but Obama's NSA." It fits into the party's narrative of Obama being dictatorial. It also is a good way to sway his party, which is otherwise trusting of law enforcement. Someone might trust the NSA in the abstract, but an NSA run by someone who wants to round up gun owners and impose Sharia law (or so the narrative goes)? Associating the spying with Obama personally is the perfect way of creating doubt among conservatives that otherwise reflexively trust government when national security is implicated.

Unfortunately, it won't last. As soon as we have a Republican in the White House again the narrative will switch again, and the NSA will once again be protecting our security rather than threatening our civil liberties. They did it with health care: Romneycare was good and Obamacare is bad, despite the fact that they are essentially identical policies.

As it is now, it seems like every left-of-center friend I know comes to one of two conclusions: they don't want to talk about Obama or the NSA, or they say that they trust Obama with these powers (he'd never abuse them etc).

The upside to having a Republican in the White House, is that vast majority of liberals will finally stop being hypocrites about 'speaking truth to power' and pretending to care about human rights, and they'll instantly get upset about the NSA story (while claiming of course that it was solely the fault of Republicans all along). The Republican President would act as as lightning rod, the perfect excuse to rediscover their fair-weather beliefs. The liberal wing would then apply pressure to the rest of the party to restrict the spying.

There would finally be broad based opposition to the NSA's program from one of the parties.

Unfortunately, Hillary is going to win the next election by a wide margin. And absolutely nothing will change; rather, most of the programs will be permanently codified into accepted US Government practices.

"As it is now, it seems like every left-of-center friend I know comes to one of two conclusions: they don't want to talk about Obama or the NSA, or they say that they trust Obama with these powers (he'd never abuse them etc)."

Don't make this a left-right thing. For what it's worth, the people I know most in support happen to be weakly right-of-center and those most opposed are radical leftists but really there are other things dominating (the leftists are nearly tied by some Libertarians). Individuals with fair-weather beliefs are an issue on both sides (and it's somewhat human, unfortunately, which isn't to say desirable). And of course amongst mainstream politicians of both parties, we certainly are seeing a huge amount of fair-weather behavior - with strong supporters of this crap under W. now rallying against it while previously critical Democrats forget what the problem was...

To my mind, there's a few strong points worth making here to those rallying around "their guy"... 1) "you might not trust the next guy/gal" (which gets made pretty often), 2) pointing out that a lot of people involved here aren't even NSA agents but contractors with big defense firms, and 3) there's a documented history of abuses (most of which were found because they were self-reported, so there's tremendously more abuse going on we don't see).

"The upside to having a Republican in the White House, is that vast majority of liberals will finally stop being hypocrites about 'speaking truth to power' and pretending to care about human rights, and they'll instantly get upset about the NSA story (while claiming of course that it was solely the fault of Republicans all along)."

You'll have to explain why it would be different than every other time we've switched parties here. Some of this stuff was talked about under Clinton (e.g. Carnivore, though that was FBI), and some Republicans fretted. Much more was introduced under W. after 9/11, and some Democrats complained. Now Obama has extended it, and Republicans are rediscovering their opposition to this stuff, but they're sure to forget just as quickly if we give them power again. Probably the best chance is to have both houses of congress with an overwhelming majority of the party that does not control the presidency (and it probably doesn't matter much which is which).

I can tell you don't know and have never spoken to anyone left-of-center in your life. Your description of Liberals comes straight out of the Libertarian playbook. The image of the "peace-loving, bleeding-heart, hippie Democrat" is a weak attempt to make ANY support for defense look hypocrite. In reality there is support only not as much as you or other Libertarians would like. That's a perfectly normal point of discussion if you're willing to put your lies aside.

There might not be a broad opposition coming from the left but there is an opposition. If it were up to Democrats the bipartisan Amash amendment to defund the NSA would have passed[1]. The problem isn't a Democrat in the White House, it's a non-functioning GOP in Congress.

I still support Obama and I have no problem talking about it.

[1] http://defundthensa.com

I do know a couple of those "peace-loving, bleeding-heart, hippies" who don't have really any support for defense. They're not mostly Democrats, though - more typically Green if they have a party affiliation... (and not all Green Party members I know are like that, either). Generalizing is hard.

Well, hopefully in that administration the Democrats would be galvanized enough to be the ones leading the charge against Big Surveillance.

The very fact that this issue would have to be ping-ponged around between both parties (like so many other issues) shows that we need more political parties in the U.S. to represent different views.

> Well, hopefully in that administration the Democrats would be galvanized enough to be the ones leading the charge against Big Surveillance.

Maybe. The dems are not quite as shameless about their hypocrisy as the republicans are. I have a hard time seeing e.g. Diane Feinstein flip-flopping on this even with a republican in the white house. I'd love to be proven wrong about that, but I won't bet my life savings on it.

Anyone who doubts the essence of the "round up gun owners" narrative (disarm us, of course) which became an imperative after Sandy Hook, post election, but not Aurora, Colorado, pre-election, hasn't been paying attention.

And your point is a very good one: smashing enough trust in the government that a lot of conservatives have, e.g. ones like me who grew up watching The F.B.I. starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., is a critical step in fixing things. I'd say it won't take much, based on the one House vote so far, which didn't break along any conventional lines (party, region, etc.)

For many people, the difference between yet another mass shooting and a mass shooting involving kindergarteners was one with significance.

Would a grown adult with a knife have much more trouble against a room full of kindergarteners?


Well into a second term, it's the incumbent's everything, isn't it? Are any of the same generals still fighting "Bush's wars?"

So when Obama's term is up and a new president is elected will the problem go away?

Labeling it as "Barack Obama's NSA" incorrectly boxes the issue into the typical left/right categories we use in American politics. It will turn off those on the left, and not get the point across to those on the right why this is an issue. Since he used that kind of partisan language in the press release it really makes me question his motivations on this. Is he against it because it is wrong, or because it is an opportunity to ding the president and get his name in the press again.

> On his website, he's urging Americans to join the lawsuit, in his words, "to stop Barack Obama's NSA from snooping on the American people."

So this is mere political opportunism. Because it's not Obama's NSA, he just happened to touch down in part of the NSA's timeline. The NSA has been, would be and will be doing this regardless of administration or party.

The NSA works for the President. He can order them to stop any and all of these programs immediately, and if they don't, start firing people until they do.

He won't (and I don't think he should) because he thinks it would be a bad idea from both a national security and a political standpoint.

I would be seriously fascinated to hear Obama's honest reasoning on this topic. He's got a history all the way back to law school of public statements that are diametrically opposed to what he's authorizing the NSA to do. Yet when he's president, he lets it continue? I mean, maybe he stopped them from doing some even worse stuff, but you'd think he'd be opposed to the currently disclosed programs, from his history.

Based on his history, I assumed he came into office, went to the NSA, and said, "Well, I know you want to do way more creepy spying. I want you to do less creepy spying. So how about we meet in the middle with a little more creepy spying?" And then they talked him up a little from there.

Ha, fair enough.

And Rand Paul works for Rand Paul, and with the Republicans that he has chosen to throw in with. The NSA would be in the exact same state of capability and behavior today if a Republican were in the Whitehouse, and Paul would not be suing.

This is about Rand Paul, using any available brick to throw at Obama, the idea being that as Obama's fortunes fall Paul's rise.

"Rand Paul, using any available brick to throw at Obama"

In short a version of grandstanding. Schumer of NY uses any opportunity he can in the same way for certain issues.

While all politicians do this some are more likely than others to seize the moment.

In other words something is in the news and then all the sudden Senator "x" is writing a letter or demanding some action which gets him publicity.

It would be interesting to see how many times a press release is issued by these types that is not about some issue that has bubbled up first in the media. (My point being that I'd like to see if I am correct...or not.)

I do know that politicians are quick to write letters about anything and everything. But certain issues that have more PR potential seem to be more equal than others. My observation.

Why does Paul's motivation matter? I'm just happy to see something being done.

It does, because motivation decides what that "something" in "something being done" is.

Rand Paul's party is by far the biggest supporter of NSA, TSA, and other TLAs. If he really wanted to change things, he could start by convincing his own party to stop fellating the NSA.

I think injunctive relief against the NSA is a goal, a "something" that most civil liberties advocates and Rand Paul can agree on. Let it not be said that liberals took yet another opportunity to miss an opportunity at bipartisan reform of our executive branch's powers.

Motivation matters because you serve the goal, not the tactics. If Paul's motivation is not actually restricting the NSA, then at some point he's likely to pivot.

Where in Rand Paul's heavily libertarian-leaning history do you see evidence that he's in favor of a police state (or policies that make such possible), such that a massive issue like this is one on which he's likely to pivot away from his fundamental beliefs?

I know nothing of Rand Paul's history. When I see someone talking about an issue (the NSA) and using it to paint an opponent ("Obama's NSA"), then I think it's safe to say that the point is as much that opponent as the mere paint.

> The NSA works for the President.

While I'm not that well versed in American politics, I find that hard to believe. The President doesn't seem to be some sort of all-controlling, micromanaging dictator, I'd find it more believable that he doesn't directly control the majority of US institutions, especially since most of them operate regardless of the political party in charge.

I mean, the NSA has been operating for 60 years, so obviously there is some continuity, and their activities go beyond the whims of each individual president...

The NSA falls under the Department of Defense, they are a military tool. It is directly under the command of the Commander-in-chief, ie the US President, at all times, period.

They do what he commands. If that's not the case, then the United States is under siege, and the government has suffered a coup.

"If that's not the case, then the United States is under siege, and the government has suffered a coup."

Not every instance of dereliction of duty is a coup... but at the extreme, yeah.

The NSA is part of the executive branch and must obey directives from the President that do not violate the law. Otherwise, the President couldn't execute his/her duty as defined in the US Constitution.

"the buck stops here"

The President isn't a dictator.

The NSA is under the DoD. So he needs to start by firing Chuck Hagel, then his Deputy, then General Alexander, et al.

That is going to do more damage than it helps. The NSA isn't black and white no matter how much people on HN have recently decided it to be so.

Law changes and reforms within the NSA are the only sane way to fix issues you don't like without doing more harm than good, and the President just doesn't unilaterally get to pass new laws on his whim.

The president does set administrative policy for executive agencies, and can certainly tell them they need to stay further inside whatever bounds Congress has laid out. Of course, that can be trivially reversed by the next guy...

Sure, that's why elections matter.

Don't let your political idealism blind you. Obama has control over the NSA, and Paul is calling out the man who can change its policies.

Sure you're right, but if Obama lost his last election do you think they'd be any difference to the NSA today? Maybe Rand Paul cares more about the morals than the politics, maybe he doesn't. I don't like the guy, but whatever his motive I'm happy he's doing this. At the end of the day, both sides would be happy to claim morality when really just playing politics, so even if that is what he's doing, I don't see it as making him any worse than his colleagues or rivals.

So I assume you knew Obama was going to kill innocent children with an drone strike campaign larger than anything before, spy on the world, etc, and because of this you did not vote for him?

Well I didn't vote for anybody because I'm English. But I'm not sure what point you're trying to make, anyway.

I'm not arguing that Obama is good or shouldn't be blamed for NSA, I'm just saying that I believe had he not become president, it wouldn't have changed the NSA situation. Maybe I'm wrong. Who knows, maybe a republican president right now would abolish the NSA, or maybe they would drop nukes all over Europe, I (and you) can't know exactly what would have happened. But if you disagree with my assumption that Obama losing wouldn't have lead to any different reaction to the NSA, then feel free to make that point. But apart from that, whether Obama is murdering kids with his bare hands or making the world an incredible place with his love, is irrelevant.

As to my own views, had I had US voting rights I would have voted for Obama, and by now would be (and am despite not voting) extremely upset by his actions in office. But I'm not sure my politics are relevant. My point was that I think that were the roles reversed, it would be a democrat wanting to fight the NSA, and a republican president keeping the status quo. And my point was that politicians on both sides consider both moral and political points before deciding to do something like this. I'd make that point whether I loved Rand Paul or hated him, whether I love the NSA or hate them.

My point is that if you would simply pay attention to people's actions and words, instead of simply assuming some sort of weird groupthink along partylines, you would have been able to predict people's actions like Obama. Because you have not done so, you claims about what would have been different are completely invalid.

It's not about Repulican or Democrat, both parties have many evil people in them. It's about the person. Just one simple example is that Obama voted for renewal of the Patriot Act. This alone should have been enough to not be surprised by this.

And yes, if Ron Paul had been elected, this would not have happened. 30 years of consistency.

30 years of consistency, but also 30 years of not having much power. Power does change people. Whether it would have changed him enough to have mattered appreciably here, or whether other concerns would have dominated, who can say? I'd bet he would have been consistent on this point, but it's not a certainty.

What is certain is power didn't change Obama - he's always been that way, and you need to pay attention to people's past before you put faith in them.

What is entirely more likely is that power did change Obama, because he is human and that is (studies show) how humans tend to work. What is more up in the air is whether it changed his position on surveillance. It's possible that it did not - but note that a vote on the Patriot Act is not directly a vote on this stuff, and that he spoke against similar stuff in the past.

You know this is Rand Paul, not Ron, right?

Rand Paul did not run for president in 2012. He has also only recently been elected as Senator, so he does not have a political record of 30 years.

Indeed, the NSA is one of the four branches of our government, and there is little control the executive branch has over its operations or conduct.

If Obama wanted to fundamentally alter this problem forever, he'd go on national TV and tell the American public exactly the situation - that the NSA is so powerful he can no longer control it. Then he'd convene with Congress, and order the NSA to be dismantled immediately (and rebuilt under a different, much more restrained spec).

If the NSA tried to stop the process and acted against the orders of the Commander-in-chief, Obama should then recall the US Military and destroy the NSA with brute force, treating it as a hostile domestic militia that is attempting a coup. Game over. Sound far fetched? No, it's just a standard issue government revolution, no different than what has gone on throughout history all across the map.

It is true that Obama is limited in what he can do, but apparently he isn't even willing to do that.

The Obama administration has decided to preserve a controversial arrangement under which a single military official is permitted to direct both the National Security Agency and the military’s cyberwarfare command despite an external review panel’s recommendation against doing so, according to U.S. officials.


I think those that have been paying attention know this. If it is bad from one party it is bad from another. However, perhaps this is a calculated attempt to rally TV conservatives around the cause. It may not be completely accurate, but it might work.

My question would be:

How should we be able to trust them ever again?

I mean, it's been shown that people like Obama an Clapper openly lie. Nobody seems to care about that.

I'm still not sure that it's a good idea to accept the weak bone they'll throw us to make us forget about the real issue (Obama hinted at some limitations he might enforce).

You could trust them otherwise? You can't trust politicians, period. Their interests and incentives don't align with ours. Your default mode should be to distrust them, to expect them to lie when it serves their ends. Anything else is, quite frankly, a very naive world view.

But that does not mean you should accept it when they lie. You should expect them to lie when it serves their ends, but a refusal to accept it (coupled with vigilance and systems that make it hard for them to get away with it) means it more rarely serves their ends.

It'll be thrown out on "National Security" concerns which says everything that needs to be said.

This will be a useful lawsuit. I think that this will be a very different lawsuit from the one the ACLU is currently pursuing. First, it is being led by two US Senators from vastly different political perspectives, which gives it tremendous credibility with a wide base of people.

Additionally, if the USG falls back on the national security argument yet again, then this will damage the Obama administration's credibility even more, and that will be a useful outcome as well.

As an aside, it's funny how quickly Obama has gone from a novelty (first black president, exciting!) to just a very weak, unprincipled leader, and who weakens himself even more with every backroom deal with wall street, every promotion of Bush-era hawks, every prosecution of reporters under the Espionage Act, and every defense of mass surveillance of Americans. My sense is that he is under the full sway of his advisors and underlings, and he lacks the cajones to think for himself and stand up to them when they argue for practicality over principle. Clearly our political system needs to do a better job of selecting strong, intelligent, moral leaders, rather than just well-spoken ones. (An interesting problem in itself, and one which I think is only partly addressed by campaign finance reform.)

But the other lesson from this is that our system of checks and balances is not working. This suit is an attempt to use the judicial to check the executive. A laudable attempt to work within the system. But as you mention, the executive is not shy about playing their trump card - keeping secrets vital to national security - rendering a judicial check impossible. Meanwhile, Congress is still in very poor shape, with Tea Party morons so fixated on taxation that they ignore everything else. (Although I must admit, that in times like these "starve the beast" does seem mighty appealing. What the hell are we doing giving Obama $1T a year to play with, given his lack of judgement and scruples? Indeed, what man or woman exists that can be trusted with that kind of power, especially given the glaring weaknesses in our system of checks and balances?)

We've seen some egregious, shameless use of structural weaknesses in our system, hacks that previous generations of senators and presidents have been deeply reluctant to use - apparently well aware of the cost of using them. Executive use of "national security" to quash judicial check is one; indiscriminate and constant use of filibuster to intentionally stop congress from functioning at all, even on routine matters.

Fundamentally, political systems are designed to allow people with conflicting views to live in peace together, and to cooperate for mutual benefit. Without these systems, we devolve into tribes, mainly on ethnic and racial grounds, fighting for dominance over each other. We went from democracy at the city-state level, back to absolute monarchy, and now we're trying democracy at the national level.

But remember this is all new ground; the US is only 238 years old. In essence, the US is a startup, and it might fail, and it could fail catastrophically or just kind of fizzle out. (I hope doesn't, though, because I really love the idea of Star Fleet being HQ'd in San Francisco).

238 years is actually decently long for a continuous system of government. Older countries like the UK, France, Russia or China tend to actually be a series of constitutions/monarchies/dynasties that rarely last longer than 300 years at a go. France is the 5th Republic, the Russian Federation is a little over 20 years old, the CCCP a little over 60.

Unsure if you meant cojones you see, cajones translates to drawers.

2 US senators? I haven't seen any name except Rand Paul.

The likely outcome of this is that Rand Paul will be called out on his partisan motivations (and there will be some truth to it, I admit) in the media, and the courts will ultimately throw out the lawsuit and thus protect the surveillance state. We know that the president won't do anything about this. The legislature won't, and neither will the courts. The most we could expect is a token piece of legislation that promises oversight, but will have stealth provisions that end up making everything worse, or provide clemency for the NSA's various crimes.

Roll eyes. If this was happening during a Republican presidency, it would be some random Democrat suing. Even though both parties got together to make this happen behind the scenes.

This shortsighted brand of cynicism, writ large, is exactly what is enabling this revolving door approach to policy in this country.

This shortsighted brand of cynicism, writ large, is exactly what is enabling this revolving door approach to policy in this country.

Yes... I repeated your comment verbatem to demonstrate that the same could be said of your attitude.

I was making the point that cynical eye rolling at any initiative from political competitors, despite common goals, leads to a zero sum system where policy reflects narrowminded politics rather than shared values. That is a bad thing, and I think we should try and nip it in the bud as much as possible.

What about my attitude is leading to the same?

A few good men.

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