Presidential Candidates Are Talking About Surveillance Post-Paris Attacks

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, addresses the Sunshine Summit in Orlando, Fla. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JOHN RAOUX, FILE
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, addresses the Sunshine Summit in Orlando, Fla. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JOHN RAOUX, FILE

Last week’s deadly Islamic State-led Paris attacks that killed 130 people and injured more than twice that has incited nationalist calls to refuse asylum to Syrian refugees in the interest of national security, but have also made the more divisive topic of government surveillance unavoidable for presidential hopefuls.

Candidates have largely dodged talking about surveillance practices or the National Security Agency’s controversial tactics but Democrat and Republican contenders broke their silence this week. Here’s a look at where some of the top 2016 presidential candidates stand on government surveillance post-Paris:

Hillary Clinton

During a speech Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton denounced politicians for refusing Syrian refugees but took a more moderate stance on privacy and security concerns raised following the Paris attacks.

Encryption of mobile communications presents a particularly tough problem. We should take the concerns of law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals seriously. They have warned that impenetrable encryption may prevent them from accessing terrorist communications and preventing a future attack.

The former secretary of state’s comments are slightly hawkish when contrasted with peers on the right, in Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and on the left, in Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Her remarks lean against the anti-government surveillance movement provoked in 2013 by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. But Clinton acknowledged that weighing privacy and security concerns are a significant challenge, and it will take collaboration between the private and public sectors to solve it.

On the other hand, we know there are legitimate concerns about government intrusion, network security, and creating new vulnerabilities that bad actors can and would exploit. So we need Silicon Valley not to view government as its adversary. We need to challenge our best minds in the private sector to work with our best minds in the public sector to develop solutions that will both keep us safe and protect our privacy. Now is the time to solve this problem, not after the next attack.

Donald Trump

Top Republican contender Donald Trump profusely commented on America’s need for better security, retorting that his original idea to build a great wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would also work to keep out Syrian refugees seeking asylum.


Trump also noted in a Yahoo News interview the “unthinkable” security measures, such as a surveillance watch list, that he said will be needed to survey American Muslims following the Paris attacks.

Trump hasn’t directly come out for or against domestic government surveillance but the real estate business mogul alluded that taking a hard line stance against it won’t get him elected.

In response to a Des Moines Register reporter’s question on Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) penchant for privacy rights and electronic surveillance, Trump said: “You know, a guy like Rand Paul, he’s one percent in the polls. By the way, I’m proud to tell you, we’re leading in Iowa now.”

But Trump doesn’t seem to be completely against privacy rights. Trump also said in the same interview that Americans’ privacy rights plummeted after last week’s attacks in part because many are willing to give it up to feel safe.

“Those privacy rights were a lot stronger three days ago than they are now,” Trump said. “I think a lot of people would be willing to give up some privacy in order to have more safety.”

Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) generally opposes intrusive government surveillance and voted for the NSA reform bill the USA Freedom Act that passed this summer. During a Washington Examiner forum Wednesday, Cruz emphasized individual’s right to privacy while criticizing a new senate proposal that aims to reinstate the NSA’s bulk collection program.


“I believe in the Constitution,” Cruz said. “I’ve spent my whole life fighting to defend the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, and the federal government has no right to be seizing, collecting and holding the phone metadata of hundreds of millions of law-abiding citizens.”

Marco Rubio

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) released a hawkish four-point plan to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS) in a Politico op-ed this week saying that he will do “whatever it takes” to defeat the terrorist group, including bolstering Ameica’s spying powers. In his column, Rubio lambasted his running opponents, for voting for measures that limit intelligence gathering.

Some of my Republican colleagues are also vying for the presidency, yet they have spent the last several years helping to gut our defense and eliminate key intelligence programs. All have failed to grasp the threat posed by disengagement from Syria and Iraq. I warned against it from the beginning.

During the Wall Street Journal CEO Council forum Monday, Rubio called out specifically Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), saying “At least two of my colleagues in the Senate aspiring to the presidency — Sen. [Ted] Cruz in particular — have voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence programs just in the last month-and-a-half.”

Rubio also dismissed public concerns the government spies on average Americans and emphasized the need for access to real-time data to prevent the next attack.


“That’s not happening, but we need to have access to this information in order to save lives, especially in an exigent circumstance,” Rubio said Monday. “We need to have real-time access to any actionable intelligence that will allow us to save Americans’ lives.”

Rubio is also backing a new senate proposal from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) that would extend the NSA’s bulk telephone metadata collection through January 2017. The program is expected to shut down later this year.

Jeb Bush

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) already proclaimed his support of the NSA’s tactics, but reupped his request to reinstate the agency’s telephone metadata program in an interview with MSNBC this week.

“I think we need to restore the metadata program,” Bush said on MSNBC’s 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.”