"We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states." Barack Obama, 2004
Mike Lee knows something about going over the top (See: shutdown, government). And when the junior senator from Utah says the National Security Agency has gone too far in its sweeps of phone records, emails and Internet searches, attention should be paid.
It is fair to wonder what Lee's position would be if the NSA's metadata sweeps and storage were going on under a Republican president, rather than in the administration of a Democrat whose every move Lee habitually abhors. (These spying programs, and much more, originated under President George W. Bush, with justifications ordered up by Vice President Dick Cheney. But that was before Lee was elected.)
The fact remains that, whatever the source of his motivation, Lee has been outspoken in his opposition to the kinds of warrantless or overbroad searches the NSA has been engaged in and at least once falsely denied, in sworn testimony before Congress. The category of searches that were found constitutionally suspect Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon in Washington.
Lee's problem with the administration's and the agency's actions and justifications did not begin with the latest ruling, or with the flood of disturbing revelations that have been provided by rogue NSA contractor Edward Snowden. They go back at least several months, and include Lee's work with Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Mark Udall of Colorado.
That collaboration has produced a bill, "USA Freedom Act," which would rightly end the bulk collection of Americans' communication records, a practice authorized by 2001's USA Patriot Act, and place more oversight powers with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court.
Judge Leon, who stayed his order blocking the sweeps so the government could appeal, said Bill of Rights author James Madison would be "aghast" at these goings on. That echoes Lee's concerns that the practices clearly run afoul of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure.
Meanwhile, President Obama and his administration dare not put the brakes on any programs that may, might or are supposed to prevent terrorist attacks. And that is likely to continue, even under future presidents, until such time as the American people rise up and demand otherwise.