“If ISIS had lobbyists in Washington, they would have spent millions to support the anti-intelligence law that was just passed with the help of some Republicans now running for president,” Rubio said during a speech at an American Legion chapter in Hooksett, New Hampshire.
The presidential candidate was referring to the USA Freedom Act, which passed Congress in June and took effect at the end of November, curbing a controversial National Security Agency telephone-records collection program. Under the old program, which a federal appeals court ruled illegal, the NSA swept information about Americans’ phone calls into a database and sought warrants to access it. The USA Freedom Act tweaked this process by requiring that the NSA instead get warrants to request this phone metadata from the phone companies instead of collecting it directly.
Rubio and rival candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who voted for the bill, sparred over surveillance at the latest Republican presidential debate in mid-December. Days earlier, on the campaign trail, Cruz had criticized Rubio over the issue, though not by name.
In attacking the law, Rubio, the only candidate on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has argued that it makes Americans less safe by restricting the government’s access to phone records. But as Cruz, the Obama administration, and others have pointed out, it actually had the opposite effect. The NSA had been having trouble tapping cellphones, but the phone companies don’t have that problem.
Surveillance has emerged as a divisive topic in the Republican primary, with Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) taking the civil-liberties side and Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, brushing aside privacy concerns.
“When I am president,” Rubio said in his New Hampshire speech, according to the prepared text shared with reporters, “we are not going to violate the civil liberties of Americans, but we are going to capture as many terrorists as possible.”