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A Look at Rep. Paul Ryan's Record on Civil Liberties Issues

by Wes Messamore, published
Bush signs USA Patriot Act. White House photo by Eric Draper

On Sunday, Constitutional law expert and civil liberties advocate Glenn Greenwald wrote at Salon of Mitt Romney's newly announced running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan: "Perhaps most ludicrous of all is the notion that he’s some sort of advocate for restrained federal government power." Indeed, the Beltway libertarian magazine, Reason, published an article Saturday calling Paul Ryan "a hawk with a rotten record on civil liberties: bad on the Patriot Act, bad on indefinite detentions, bad on surveillance, bad on the border fence, bad on the drug war."

In a press release Saturday morning, the ACLU said of the Republican Party's presumptive vice presidential candidate:

"In response to Mitt Romney’s announcement of his vice presidential pick of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the American Civil Liberties Union Liberty Watch 2012 campaign this morning released a brief report that reveals an appalling civil liberties record for Ryan."

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero says:

"Paul Ryan may end up a heartbeat away from the presidency but he’ll be light years from civil liberties. Paired with Romney’s already-abysmal record on civil liberties, Ryan’s positions only take this ticket further from the vision of our founding fathers."

Are these accusations by civil liberties advocates fair? The following list outlines Paul Ryan's record of votes and positions on key civil liberties issues so that Independent voters can decide for themselves:


The Patriot Act - Warrantless surveillance

requirement that warrants "particularly describ the place to be searched."

The controversial USA Patriot Act, passed into law after little debate on October 6, 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, authorizes "roving wiretaps" over multiple communications devices with a single warrant in federal investigations, circumventing the Fourth Amendment

It also permits federal agents to issue National Security Letters to third party businesses and libraries requesting paperwork on a person under investigation, and allows them to enforce "gag orders" making it a felony for the third party to inform the person being investigated. It also lowers the requirements for federal agents to conduct electronic surveillance with warrants issued in secret by a FISA court.

Rep. Paul Ryan voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, as well as its re-authorization in 2005, and an extension of some of its most controversial provisions set to expire in 2011.


The Military Commissions Act - Indefinite Detention

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 broadened the Washington regime's definition of "enemy combatant," issued ex post facto provisions for bringing charges against defendants, shielded federal agents from liability or prosecution related to alleged instances of misconduct, including torture, and the US Supreme Court even ruled in 2008 that it unconstitutionally suspended habeas corpus-- the right to trial by court, as opposed to indefinite detention by military or law enforcement.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said of the MCA: "The president can now, with the approval of Congress, indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions."

Rep. Paul Ryan voted for the Military Commissions Act.


The NDAA - Indefinite Detention for American Citizens

In 2011, the National Defense Authorization Act, a routine appropriations bill passed each year, contained controversial provisions that made it the focus of a battle on Capitol Hill. Civil liberties advocates worried that the language of the bill would allow the US military, at the direction of the president, to arrest US citizens on American soil if merely accused of terrorism and detain them indefinitely without charges or trial.

While debating the bill on the Senate floor, US Senator Rand Paul asked Senator John McCain:

"Under the provisions, would it be possible that an American citizen then, could be declared an enemy combatant and sent to Guantanamo Bay and detained indefinitely?"

Sen. McCain answered in the affirmative:

"I think that as long as that individual, no matter who they are, if they pose a threat to the security of the United States of America should not be allowed to continue that threat. I think that's the majority of the American public opinion."
he had serious reservations about the bill upon signing it: "I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations about certain provision that regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists."

Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch said of the bill: "By signing this defense spending bill, President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law. In the past, Obama has lauded the importance of being on the right side of history, but today he is definitely on the wrong side." Obama himself said

Rep. Paul Ryan voted for the NDAA of 2011.


CISPA - Warrantless surveillance

The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 was written to allow federal agents and private companies to share information in order to prevent and contain cyber attacks, but as the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, "the bill expressly authorizes monitoring of our private communications, and is written so broadly that it allows companies to hand over large swaths of personal information to the government with no judicial oversight."

The White House pushed back against the bill saying in a statement that "legislation that would sacrifice the privacy of our citizens in the name of security, will not meet our nation's urgent needs." After CISPA passed the House, Michelle Richardson, ACLU legislative counsel, said: "Cybersecurity does not have to mean abdication of Americans’ online privacy. As we’ve seen repeatedly, once the government gets expansive national security authorities, there’s no going back. We encourage the Senate to let this horrible bill fade into obscurity."

Rep. Paul Ryan voted for CISPA.


The Protect America Act - Civilian Surveillance without Warrants

The Protect America Act was a controversial amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that removed the warrant requirement for federal agents spying on targets "reasonably believed" to be outside the United States, with no Fourth Amendment protections for US citizens on the United States side of an international electronic communication such as an email or phone call. It removed even the secret FISA court warrant as a requirement for spying, and allowed the Attorney General to issue year-long warrants to federal agents.

The ACLU called it "The Police America Act," and pointed out that it "allows for massive, untargeted collection of international communications without court order or meaningful oversight by either Congress or the courts." Rep. Ron Paul in a speech on the House floor, noted that the bill "allows the US government to monitor telephone calls and other electronic communications of American citizens without a warrant," adding that it "sidelines the FISA Court system and places authority over foreign surveillance in the director of national intelligence and the attorney general with little if any oversight."

Rep. Paul Ryan voted for The Protect America Act.

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