BERKELEY, Calif. – Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., delivered a chilling speech on the epidemic of government surveillance to a packed auditorium at the University of California at Berkeley Wednesday night and announced he will call for a select committee on investigations to look into the intelligence community’s “abuse of power.”
Paul demanded a “bipartisan and independent” select committee to “investigate and reform those who spy on us in the name of protecting us.”
The senator was welcomed with massive applause at the packed Berkeley Forum. He opened his speech explaining that no cell-phone user is safe from spying.
“If you own a cell phone, you’re under surveillance. I believe what you do on your cell phone is none of their damn business,” Paul exclaimed to applause.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m worried. If the CIA is spying on Congress, who exactly can or will stop them? I look into the eyes of senators, and I think I see real fear,” said Paul, who has been an outspoken critic of the National Security Agency’s phone and email surveillance programs.
“Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I think I perceive fear of an intelligence community drunk with power, unrepentant and uninclined to relinquish power,” he added.
“Most of you have probably read the dystopian novels and you think to yourself, ‘That can’t happen in America,’” Paul said, explaining that the U.S. isn’t all that far away from such a scenario.
Paul emphasized that he is unwilling to accept that a “terrorist can’t be apprehended in a manner consistent with the Bill of Rights.”
Generalized warrants that don’t name an individual and seek to obtain millions of records go directly against the Fourth Amendment, he argued.
“I oppose this abuse of power with every ounce of energy I have. You have a right to privacy, and it should be protected,” Paul emphatically stated.
“Power must be restrained because you never know who will next hold that power,” he ominously warned.
The senator also delved into a deeper discussion of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden than he has in the past. Views on Snowden are often split, with some calling him a traitor and others a hero.
“Edward Snowden did break the law—but so did [Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper,” Paul said.
“Without Snowden, these spies would still be doing whatever they pleased,” the Kentuckian pointed out.
“When the intelligence director lies, it makes it harder for us to believe him when he tells us, ‘We’re collecting all your information but we won’t do anything with it,’” Paul noted.
Paul highlighted the scope and magnitude of the NSA’s surveillance program on citizens.
“I want the American people to know that the amount of data collected on the American people is almost beyond imagination,” Paul stated.
Last month, Paul filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the American people against the Obama administration over NSA data collection. He made the announcement on Capitol Hill with FreedomWorks’ Matt Kibbe and former Virgina Attorney General Ken Cucinnelli, who will serve as lead counsel for the case.
The lawsuit names President Obama, Clapper, NSA Director Keith Alexander and FBI Director James Comey. The complaint calls for “relief from the Defendants’ mass, suspicionless, non-particularized collection, storage, retention, and search of telephone metadata related to every domestic call made or receive by Plaintiffs.”
Paul's speech also came on the heels of last week's revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency may have conducted unlawful searches of congressional computers used by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers.
Paul opened the floor to questions following his speech. He addressed drug-sentencing reform, the higher-education crisis and tax reform, explaining why he supports a version of a flat tax.
Polls show the senator is the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination for 2016. Following a landslide victory in the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, straw poll earlier this month, Paul went on to win another straw poll at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in New Hampshire last weekend.
Solidifying his place at the top of the Republican field, a CNN/ORC poll released last week put Paul at the top, garnering 16 percent of the vote among Republicans and independents. Not far behind was Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., with 15 percent, followed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry with 11 percent.
Tea-party favorites Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rick Santorum didn't crack double digits.
A Republican choosing to speak at Berkeley might surprise some, but Paul has become known for bringing his liberty-focused message to nontraditional Republican voters.
Last April, Paul spoke at Howard University, a historically black college, on economic freedom, school choice and a variety of other topics. Last December he spoke at the Detroit Economic Club about the city's bankruptcy, introducing tax cuts and a series of "economic freedom" zones to help revive the failing city. He also called for drug-sentencing reform to crack down on policies that disproportionately affect minorities.