Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s 11-hour filibuster railing against the NSA’s bulk data collection program on Wednesday gave the Republican presidential candidate an opportunity to contrast his position on intelligence from his GOP rivals in 2016. As a libertarian, Paul has been the most vocal opponent of NSA spying and the bulk data collection program authorized under a section of the Patriot Act that expires June 1.
On the NSA, Paul’s views are more closely aligned with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is challenging former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, than his GOP rivals. Republican positions on the program range from dismantling it to keeping it to reforming it. Republicans running for president are also split between those who want to disband or those who wt to keep the Patriot Act, which was enacted six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and gave the government more power to spy on American citizens with little oversight. The bulk data collection program of telephone records was publicly released only after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked the program's details in 2013.
Here’s where the other 2016 presidential candidates stand on the spying:
Hillary Clinton: Clinton hasn’t staked out a firm position on NSA spying, although recent comments suggest that she thinks the program should continue. “Well, I think the NSA needs to be more transparent about what it is doing, sharing with the American people, which it wasn't. And I think a lot of the reaction about the NSA, people felt betrayed. They felt, wait, you didn't tell us you were doing this. And all of a sudden now, we're reading about it on the front page,” she told tech journalist Kara Swisher in February, according to the Atlantic. “So when you say, ‘Would you throttle it back?’ well, the NSA has to act lawfully. And we as a country have to decide what the rules are. And then we have to make it absolutely clear that we're going to hold them accountable.”
Bernie Sanders: Sanders is against the bulk data collection program. "Kids will grow up knowing that every damn thing that they do is going to be recorded some place in a file, and I think that will have a very Orwellian and very inhibiting impact on the way we live our lives," Sanders said on MSNBC after the first Snowden leaks in June 2013. "I want our law enforcement people to be vigorous in going after terrorists. But I happen to believe they can do that without disregarding the Constitution of the United States or the civil liberties of the American people."
Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor slammed Obama’s handling of the NSA program and said he would nix it if elected. “There's no doubt that intelligence gathering is vital to the security of all Americans, but there should be a balance between that protection and our privacy,” Huckabee said in a statement earlier this month. “However, Obama’s warrantless, NSA spying program is more than just illegal, it’s an unconstitutional, criminal assault on our freedoms as Americans. As president, I will repeal this program and protect the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans.”
Ted Cruz: The Republican senator from Texas is against the bulk data collection program but in favor of keeping the Patriot Act. “We need to walk and chew gum at the same time,” he told Politico last month. “We need to both be vigorous in protecting the security of our country and, in particular, in making sure we have the tools to stop acts of terrorism before they occur. But at the same time, we have an obligation to honor the Bill of Rights.”
Marco Rubio: The Republican senator from Florida supports the NSA spying program but is against the Patriot Act extension. "I understand why Americans are uncomfortable about government intrusiveness, and anyone caught abusing that program should be prosecuted and put in jail,” Rubio told the New Hampshire Union Leader last month. “But the NSA is not listening to your phone calls, unless you are calling a terrorist cell somewhere in the world, and then you have a problem, but some of this has been grossly exaggerated."
Jeb Bush: The NSA program under Obama received praise from Bush, the former governor of Florida. "I would say the best part of the Obama administration would be his continuance of the protections of the homeland using, you know, the big metadata programs, the NSA being enhanced," Bush said on the Michael Medved radio show last month, according to CNN. "Even though he never defends it, even though he never openly admits it, there has been a continuation of a very important service, which is the first obligation I think of our national government is to keep us safe."
Bush is also supportive of the Patriot Act as a whole -- legislation that was supported by his brother, ex-President George W. Bush, as a method to help keep track of terrorists.
"There's not a shred of evidence that anybody's civil liberties have been violated by it. Not a shred," he said at a New Hampshire event on Thursday, according to the Huffington Post.
Scott Walker: The Wisconsin governor is for the program, but with safeguards. He said the bulk collection should only go forward “in selective cases.” “I think there needs to be a balance, but we need to have access to that information,” Walker said Tuesday on Fox News. “I understand the legitimate concerns that people have, but those are more of a reflection of this administration, particularly when this issue first came up. We saw the challenges [faced by] the IRS and other entities out there. But having the ability to collect information that could be used under the Constitution -- used legally -- to go after people who may be connected to enemy combatants, I think, is vitally important.”
Chris Christie: The New Jersey governor defended the NSA program during an appearance in New Hampshire on Monday. “The Founders made sure that the first obligation of the American government was to protect the lives of the American people, and we can do this in a way that’s smart and cost-effective and protects civil liberties. But you know, you can’t enjoy your civil liberties if you’re in a coffin,” he said.
Ben Carson: The retired neurosurgeon's view is that the NSA program is illegal. “There are currently ways for our government to monitor the activities of suspicious individuals. You can get a court order very quickly when necessary. The security and privacy of our citizenry is paramount -- one of the central [tenets] of our Constitution. But we can protect our national security without invading the rights of law-abiding citizens,” a Carson spokeswoman told the Daily Signal on Tuesday.