Tech world cheers Paul on NSA spying, less enthusiastic on net-netruality

Rand Paul
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Rand Paul

Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul sparked applause from a tech-heavy audience Saturday when he criticized the government's bulk collection of data but drew a more tepid response for his opposition to so-called net neutrality.

Appearing at a tech start-up office space in the South of Mission district, Paul reiterated his stance against the National Security Agency collecting and storing data on nearly every American's phone calls. The practice, aimed at preventing terrorism, has divided Republican presidential candidates.

Tech entrepreneurs, typically zealous in guarding their online privacy, welcomed Paul's pledge to rein in U.S. intelligence agencies' broad data captures of phone calls and Internet use.

"The NSA doesn't need to be recording all of our phone calls," said Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky. He added, "There's not one other candidate ... willing to say, 'On Day One, I'd stop it all. I'd end all bulk collection of records.'"

Congress is debating the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, which is set to expire on June 1. Supporters of the surveillance law, including presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., say it's critical to anti-terrorism efforts. Paul and fellow Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, see the law as a privacy infringement.

Net neutrality opposes an Internet fast lane, with speedier connections at higher prices, for those who can afford to pay more. Paul, however, argued that market forces demand that if wealthier people are willing to pay more, they get the chance. He also asserted that mandated same-speed Internet for all is a market distortion akin to subsidized bread in the Soviet Union.

When a moderator of a panel said Paul's proposal to let graduates deduct their college costs on their taxes over their lifetime would only benefit the wealthy, Paul responded, "Poor kids go to Harvard, too."

Paul's appearance in a liberal bastion of a liberal state is part of his effort to expand the traditional boundaries of support for a Republican presidential campaign.

"Some people want to know what the hell is a Republican doing in San Francisco," he said. "I would say, it's about time."