Where the presidential candidates stand on Snowden, surveillance

Bob Sullivan

Bob Sullivan

What do the presidential candidates think of domestic intelligence collection — or spying on Americans, depending on your point of view?  What do they think of Ed Snowden?

We haven’t heard a lot about the NSA or Snowden during the noisy campaigns so far, and that’s a shame. That’s because all the air is being sucked out of the conversation by more trivial concerns, such as Donald Trump’s debate schedule.  But all the candidates have spoken about domestic spying and about Snowden.

As we welcome election season proper, here’s a primer on the candidates’ views.

But first, a few notes: The most remarkable item of note is that Sen. Bernie Sanders voted against the original Patriot Act back in 2001 as a member of the House. He’s part of a very select group who did so.

Second, while some candidates have expressed a bit more sympathy for Snowden’s role as whistleblower, they’ve all called for him to face prosecution for treason. Even Sanders.


Marco Rubio

On Snowden: He “sparked conspiracy theories”

From the Atlantic: “We must also distinguish these reasonable concerns from conspiracy theories sparked by Edward Snowden. This man is a traitor who has sought assistance and refuge from some of the world’s most notorious violators of liberty and human rights.”

On domestic surveillance: (The Washington Post) Those who voted for the Freedom Act, like Ted Cruz, put America at risk by making it harder to gather intelligence.

Ted Cruz

On Snowden: His opinion seems to have grown harsher over time

In 2013, he said (TheHill.com): “If it is the case that the federal government is seizing millions of personal records about law-abiding citizens, and if it is the case that there are minimal restrictions on accessing or reviewing those records, then I think Mr. Snowden has done a considerable public service by bringing it to light.”

More recently, he said: “Today, we know that Snowden violated federal law, that his actions materially aided terrorists and enemies of the United States, and that he subsequently fled to China and Russia,” he continued. “Under the Constitution, giving aid to our enemies is treason.”

On surveillance: (The Guardian) Cruz has defended his Senate for the USA Freedom Act, which clarified the NSA’s metadata telephone records collection pogram

Donald Trump

On Snowden: He’s hinted that he’d lead a charge to return and execute Snowden.

“I think he’s a terrible traitor, and you know what we used to do in the good old days when we were a strong country? You know what we used to do to traitors, right?” Trump said on Fox. 

On surveillanceI tend to err on the side of security, I must tell you,” he has said (TheHill.com).  “I assume when I pick up my telephone people are listening to my conversations anyway, if you want to know the truth… It’s a pretty sad commentary.”

He also said he would be “fine” with restoring provisions of the Patriot Act (TheHill.com) to allow for the bulk data collection.


Hillary Clinton

On Snowden: He should ‘face the music’

(The Atlantic) “He broke the laws of the United States… He could have been a whistleblower, he could have gotten all the protections of a whistleblower. He chose not to do that. He stole very important information that has fallen into the wrong hands so I think he should not be brought home without facing the music.”

On surveillance:

Clinton voted for both the 2001 Patriot Act and the 2008 FISA Amendments that extended NSA data collection capabilities.  More on her views at The Atlantic.

Bernie Sanders

On Snowden: “I think Snowden played a very important role in educating the American public … he did break the law, and I think there should be a penalty to that,” Sanders said (HuffingtonPost.com). He went on to say that the role Snowden played in educating the public about violations of their civil liberties should be considered before he is sentenced. On the other hand, this mildly Snowden sympathetic story is posted on Sanders’ senate webpage.

On surveillance:

Sanders voted against Patriot Act in 2001 as a member of the House of Representatives.  Later in the Senate, he voted against the 2008 FISA Amendments.


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