Paris Attacks Bring Domestic Surveillance Into Presidential Race | KERA News

Paris Attacks Bring Domestic Surveillance Into Presidential Race

Nov 18, 2015
Originally published on November 20, 2015 1:01 pm

Until this week, presidential candidates have mostly stayed away from discussing the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. That's quickly changing.

The Paris attacks have reframed the debate between electronic privacy and national security, and also brought that debate into the Republican primary.

Speaking to MSNBC this week, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called for the repeal of one of the key reforms to happen in the wake of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations. "I think we need to restore the metadata program," Bush told Morning Joe. "Which was part of the Patriot Act, and it expires in the next few months. I think that was a useful tool to keep us safe."

Bush was talking about an NSA program that sucks up and stores millions of phone records every day. This year, Congress passed — and President Obama signed — a law that will take the data out of the government's hands later this month.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio thinks that was a mistake, and said so at the time.

On Monday, Rubio told a Wall Street Journal forum the vote should now be a key issue in the Republican primary. "At least two of my colleagues in the Senate aspiring to the presidency — Sen. Cruz in particular — have voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence programs," Rubio said. "And the weakening of our intelligence capabilities leaves America vulnerable."

Indeed, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz played a key role in the debate over the metadata changes. "This legislation protects the constitutional rights of privacy under the Fourth Amendment, while maintaining important tools to protect national security and law enforcement," Cruz said on the Senate floor at the time.

Just to be clear, the data will still be collected, but as of Nov. 29, the phone companies hold onto the information until a judge approves individual requests.

"The same information is in the same lockbox. Now the government has to get an extra key to open that lockbox," explained Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University.

Vladeck, who edits a blog about national security, isn't surprised domestic surveillance is becoming a campaign trail topic. "I think it was inevitable that at some point the Republican candidates were going to realize that surveillance was a potential wedge issue," he said.

On top of that, the law professor argued viewpoints naturally shift after attacks like Paris. "You know, it's easy when we're years away from particularly serious incidents, to look at the Snowden disclosures, and to look at the need for tighter reform of what the government is doing," said Vladeck. "In the immediate aftermath of episodes like the Paris attacks, it's completely inevitable that at least some folks are going to call for far greater surveillance authorities."

This summer, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul dismissed worries about terrorism during a marathon floor speech. "Some people are so fearful. They're like — how could we get terrorists? We'll be overrun with terrorists, and ISIS will be in every drugstore and in every house in America if we don't get rid of the Constitution, if we don't let the Fourth Amendment lapse."

This week, Paul is much more subdued on the balance between civil liberties and security.

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Paris attacks have reignited debate about electronic surveillance. Some of that debate is played out on this program. We heard Adam Schiff, the top House Democrat on intelligence matters, say earlier this week that U.S. agencies fear they are going dark. Encryption of electronic communications makes it ever harder to peer into the messages of others. Defenders of encryption, by the way, say that is just as it should be. It's a question that presidential candidates cannot avoid. NPR's Scott Detrow reports.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: The presidential candidates have mostly stayed away from discussing the NSA's surveillance programs until this week. Speaking to MSNBC, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called for the repeal of one of the key reforms to happen in the wake of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEB BUSH: I think we need to restore the metadata program, which was part of the Patriot Act, and it expires in the next few months. I think that was a useful tool to keep us safe.

DETROW: Bush is talking about an NSA program that sucks up and stores millions of phone records every day. Earlier this year, Congress passed and President Obama signed a new law that will take the data out of the government's hands later this month. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says that was a mistake. This week, he told a Wall Street Journal forum, the vote should now be a key issue in the Republican primary.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCO RUBIO: At least two of my colleagues in the Senate aspiring to the presidency, Sen. Cruz in particular, have voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence programs just in the last month and a half.

DETROW: Indeed, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz played a big role in the debate over the metadata changes. His office even produced a movie trailer-like video about the new law.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

TED CRUZ: This legislation protects the constitutional rights of privacy under the Fourth Amendment, while maintaining important tools to protect national security and law enforcement.

DETROW: Just to be clear, the data will still be collected. But as of November 29, the phone companies will hold onto the information until a judge approves individual requests.

STEPHEN VLADECK: The same information is in the same lockbox. Now the government has to get an extra key to open that lockbox.

DETROW: Stephen Vladeck teaches national security law at American University. He's not surprised domestic surveillance is becoming a campaign trail topic. Vladeck says it's a natural wedge issue for traditional Republican hawks like Rubio and more libertarian-minded lawmakers like Cruz. On top of that, the law professor says viewpoints naturally shift after attacks like Paris.

VLADECK: You know, it's easy when we're years away from particularly serious incidents to look at the Snowden disclosures and to look at the need for tighter reform of what the government's doing in the immediate aftermath of episodes like the Paris attacks. You know, it's completely inevitable that at least some folks are going to call for far greater surveillance authorities.

DETROW: This summer, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul dismissed worries about terrorism during a marathon floor speech.

RAND PAUL: Some people are so fearful. They're like, how could we get terrorists? We'll be overrun with terrorists, and ISIS will be in every drugstore and in every house in America if we don't get rid of the Constitution, if we don't let the Fourth Amendment lapse.

DETROW: But this week, Paul is much more subdued on the balance between civil liberties and security. Scott Detrow, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.