Jacob Sullum

The law's supporters pay lip service to such concerns, professing admiration for Patriot Act critics such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Expressing regret that the Senate did not have time for the "full and complete debate on the Patriot Act" he had promised, Reid called Paul "a very pleasant man with strong feelings," saying, "I have only the highest regard for him."

But when Paul's refusal to join the artificial panic delayed the vote Reid wanted, the majority leader quickly changed his tune. Thanks to Paul's "political grandstanding," Reid warned, the government might lose "some of the most critical tools it needs to counter terrorists." Referring to Paul's proposed amendment restricting the use of Section 215 to obtain firearm records, Reid averred that "he is fighting for an amendment to protect the right of terrorists ... to cover up their gun purchases."

As Paul noted in response, this charge was much like saying that someone who thinks police should obtain a warrant before searching the home of a murder suspect must be in favor of murder. Paul forcefully rejected the bipartisan post-9/11 consensus that "we wouldn't be able to capture these terrorists if we didn't give up some of our liberties."

Among other things, Paul questions the "suspicious activity reports" that financial institutions must file for cash transfers of more than $5,000 -- a requirement that was expanded by the Patriot Act. Noting that supporters of this mandate, which generates 1 million or so reports a year, say "the courts have decided our bank records aren't private," Paul responded: "The hell they aren't. They should be private."

If this is "political grandstanding," we need more of it.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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