Responding to the recent disclosure that the federal government has secretly obtained the phone records of millions of Americans, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced legislation today to require agencies to obtain a warrant before searching such data.
The "Fourth Amendment Restoration Act," which can be read in full here, is designed "to stop the National Security Agency from spying on citizens of the United States and for other purposes" and would require a warrant with probable cause before government investigators could proceed with a search.
In a statement the senator said the revelation "represents an outrageous abuse of power."
On Wednesday the Guardian newspaper reported the Verizon company had shared daily records of all its customers' phone calls with the US government between April and July, after a secret US court approved the program. But the Washington Post reports the classified records may go back to 2006 and involve other companies.
The Post followed with a new report today that several leading Internet companies had contributed to a separate program that allowed intelligence agencies to tap into "audio, video, photographs, e-mails and other documents" of their users.
Today President Obama dismissed what he called "hype" around the reports, and insisted, "nobody is listening to your telephone calls.
"They are not looking at people's names, and they're not looking at content. But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism," he said.
The president repeatedly stated that members of congress on relevant national security committees had been briefed on the programs. Senator Paul is a member of his chamber's Homeland Security Committee but as of press time his office has not made clear whether he would have been privy to the Verizon measure.
Today's bill is strikingly similar to a second piece of legislation introduced by Paul recently, aimed at protecting against what he deems to be unreasonable searches and seizures. Last month the Kentucky lawmaker submitted the "Fourth Amendment Preservation and Protection Act," which was broader compared with the narrow focus of phone records in today's legislation. The former bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee.