On Monday, Kentucky’s Rand Paul became the first US Senator to vote against an FBI director’s nomination since the death of J. Edgar Hoover in 1972. Lifting the hold Rand Paul had placed on nominee James Comey’s confirmation over the legal justifications used for domestic use of drones — otherwise known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — for surveillance, a vote was held.
The nominee was eventually confirmed 93-1. Paul voted against him and Oregon’s Democratic U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley voted present.
The U.S. Department of Justice released a letter to Senator Paul describing its legal justification and practices for the domestic use of drone surveillance. Posted at Paul’s office website, the letter stated that Fourth Amendment considerations are observed, but cited three cases before the US Supreme Court justifying its uses:
“The Court held that aerial surveillance was not a search under the Fourth Amendment, requiring a warrant because the areas observed were open to public view and, as a matter of law, there was no reasonable expectation of privacy. . . . With respect to UAVs, there is no physical trespass involved in their use, and a warrant would not be required under this standard.”
In response to the Justice Department’s letter, Paul released a statement saying:
“The FBI today responded to my questions on domestic use of surveillance drones by saying that they don’t necessarily need a warrant to deploy this technology.”
Comey, a Republican, previously served in the administration of George W. Bush as a deputy attorney general from 2003 to 2005. During his tenure there, Comey, among others, threatened to resign regarding overreaches of warrantless wiretaps, but only after he helped authorize the Bush administration’s legal justification of the practice in the first place.
The encroachments on privacy remain an issue for many in Washington and the effort to curb its transgressions may not be ending soon. Michigan U.S. Representative Justin Amash’s bid to defund the NSA’s surveillance programs fell short last week.
One of Amash’s allies in the House, Kentucky congressman Thomas Massie, says they will next be looking to amend the Intelligence Authorization Act that sets the boundaries for clandestine programs and information collection. Massie also expressed optimism that the near-defeat of the NSA’s surveillance may mean the defeat of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) in the U.S. Senate.
Despite its vanquishing in the House, Amash and his supporters were claiming victory in defeat since the vote to defund the programs crossed party lines and required lobbying from the White House and congressional leaders to defeat.
What was once a nearly impregnable national security state during the early years of the 21st Century has found a new legion of critics. The efforts of Senators like Rand Paul and Representatives like Justin Amash have made privacy and surveillance national issues that will not be going away anytime soon.