Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul tangled with a top Obama administration official Wednesday on the matter of protecting data privacy through encryption.
The Kentucky senator questioned Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on the bulk collection of phone records, and argued that consumers’ desire for encryption is a response to government surveillance.
“The real culprit is government,” Paul said during a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing.
“You’ve been so overzealous vacuuming up our records without a legitimate warrant … [Encryption] is a response to a government that didn’t have a real sense of decency toward privacy.”
Paul also criticized the government for surveillance during the civil rights era, which he described as a cautionary tale.
“Look at the time the government wasn’t so good. The FBI director recently pointed back and talked about the times that Martin Luther King was spied upon. That’s why we want these procedural protections,” he said.
Johnson, who has been making the rounds in tech circles arguing against full encryption, declined to weigh in on bulk data collection but urged Congress to act.
“I’m in favor of a balanced solution to the [encryption] problem,” he said, adding that encrypting records makes it harder to conduct criminal investigations. “I think it’s something we need to address.”
Johnson spoke to a major cybersecurity conference in San Francisco last week, where his stance on encryption was ridiculed by tech experts.
Sen. Rand Paul today reintroduced a Constitutional amendment that would hold Congress to the same standard as the American people by requiring all laws to apply to Congress, just as they do to ordinary Americans. The legislation similarly contains two provisions that would apply this same principle of accountability to the Executive Branch and Judicial Branch of the federal government.
“I oppose allowing Congress to exempt themselves from any legislation. To that end, today, I reintroduced a Constitutional amendment that would prohibit Congress from passing any law that exempts themselves,” Sen. Paul said.