Rand Paul, a favorite of the fiscally conservative Tea Party, told
a largely welcoming, younger crowd of several hundred at the
University of California, Berkeley, that U.S. government
surveillance programs threatened their rights.
His choice of traditionally left-leaning Berkeley as a venue to
denounce government meddling was unusual, but the Kentucky senator
is keen to broaden the Republicans' appeal, particularly among young
voters, as he considers a presidential bid in 2016.
"I'm not here to tell you what to be. I am here to tell you, though,
that your rights, especially your right to privacy, are under
assault," said Paul, pressing one of his trademark themes.
Wearing a red tie, baggy blue jeans and cowboy boots, the
51-year-old Paul pivoted between harsh rebukes of government spying
programs and populist one-liners in a speech spiced with literary
and cultural references late on Wednesday.
"I believe what you do on your cellphone is none of their damn
business," said Paul, brandishing his own phone and drawing raucous
applause from students of a university that has long prided itself
as a bastion of free expression.
Paul emerged this month as favorite for the second straight year
among Republican conservative activists voting for the candidate
they would like to see next in the White House.
But he has faced criticism over a speech on civil rights at a
historically black college that was seen as condescending and has
also been accused of plagiarism.
Paul called for a bipartisan congressional committee, modeled on a
group that probed CIA abuses in the 1970s, to investigate reports of
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He cited media reports that the National Security Agency (NSA)
impersonated Facebook web pages in order to gather information from
Paul injected race into the privacy debate, referencing former
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover's spying on
civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
"I find it ironic that the first African-American president has
without compunction allowed this vast exercise of raw power by the
NSA," he said.
"If President (Barack) Obama were here, he would say he's not J.
Edgar Hoover, which is certainly true. But power must be restrained
because no one knows who will next hold that power."
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson; editing by Gareth Jones)
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