Sen. Rand Paul’s recent effort to force reforms on the National Security Agency’s data collection practices to protect the privacy of the American people has set off a firestorm of anger among the establishment of the Republican Party. From Rep. Peter King (R-NY) to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), there is a large parcel of the GOP that would eagerly sacrifice liberty for security. There is, however, one major push designed to limit the power of government that has a large base of support within the Republican establishment — the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad (LEADS) Act.
A bipartisan group of Senators are working diligently to pass the LEADS Act to overturn an extraordinary abuse of power by Eric Holder’s Justice Department. Led by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nevada), and Chris Coons (D-Delaware), these members are trying to establish rules balancing the needs of law enforcement to obtain the contents of electronic communications with privacy protections for citizens in the digital age. Unfortunately, the clock is ticking; and unless Congress acts quickly, only the Supreme Court will be left to restore rights that were taken by the government — if they even take the pending case.
The issue stems from an investigation by the Justice Department against an Irish citizen who stored information on a cloud computing system owned by an Irish company on servers stored on the island nation. If the information requested were a piece of paper instead of a byte of data, the DOJ would be forced, by treaty obligation, to request that the Irish government obtain a warrant on their behalf to obtain the information. Such requests among allies are commonplace and are not much of a hurdle for the government to jump over.
Rather than make such a request, the DOJ subpoenaed Microsoft and demanded they turn over the information because the Irish company is a subsidiary of Microsoft. Microsoft, in an effort to protect the privacy rights of their users, has rightfully refused to comply and filed a lawsuit against the government.
A federal district court in New York ruled for the government, suggesting that as an American company that wholly owns the Irish subsidiary, a simple domestic warrant is enough. Last July, the 2nd Circuit Appeals Court agreed; and in September, Microsoft asked to be held in contempt of the court so it could progress to the Supreme Court.
The ramifications of these decisions are critical for privacy rights, jurisdictional limitations of government power, and the ability of American companies to compete abroad.
Unless overturned by the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice’s argument that most anything stored on the cloud-based computer systems–even by foreign nationals on servers stored outside the United States–falls under their power will stand. Hence, the LEADS Act was introduced.
Support for the LEADs Act provides a perfect opportunity for members of the GOP to demonstrate support for privacy rights while limiting the power of the federal government.
From threatening to indict reporters who refuse to release their sources to Holder’s Department of Justice seizing two months worth of phone records from Associated Press reporters, the Obama administration will go down in history with one of the worst records for domestic civil liberties. The effort to grab control of the cloud computing systems is just the latest chapter in a sad era of the widespread violation of American constitutional liberties.
This is not a partisan issue. It is an issue with profound implications for the Bill of Rights, specifically the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. No matter who is in power, this legislation is a great way to clarify how the United States government wants Americans’ phone records to be treated by foreign nations. The natural right of privacy, and the right to police against law-breaking, are two interests that can be balanced in a way that makes sense and protects all Americans.
Privacy from government intrusion should be a conservative principle. Too many members of the GOP are willing to trust their privacy rights to bureaucrats in the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI. The LEADs Act is a small step in the right direction and creates a unique opportunity for the Republican Party to help restore some of the rights that have been trampled on by big government.
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This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Equipping You With The Truth