Marco Rubio Wants to Permanently Extend NSA Mass Surveillance

The Florida Republican and likely White House contender is further separating himself from other 2016 hopefuls in the Senate.

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 13: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during a National Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon May 13, 2014 in Washington, DC. Sen. Rubio delivered a policy speech on social security and answered questions during the luncheon. 
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
Jan. 27, 2015, 7:36 a.m.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio wants Con­gress to per­man­ently ex­tend the au­thor­it­ies gov­ern­ing sev­er­al of the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s con­tro­ver­sial spy­ing pro­grams, in­clud­ing its mass sur­veil­lance of do­mest­ic phone re­cords.

The Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­an and likely 2016 pres­id­en­tial hope­ful penned an op-ed on Tues­day con­demning Pres­id­ent Obama’s coun­terter­ror­ism policies and warn­ing that the U.S. has not learned the “fun­da­ment­al les­sons of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001.”

Ru­bio called on Con­gress to per­man­ently reau­thor­ize core pro­vi­sions of the post-9/11 USA Pat­ri­ot Act, which are due to sun­set on June 1 of this year and provide the in­tel­li­gence com­munity with much of its sur­veil­lance power.

“This year, a new Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity in both houses of Con­gress will have to ex­tend cur­rent au­thor­it­ies un­der the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Act, and I urge my col­leagues to con­sider a per­man­ent ex­ten­sion of the coun­terter­ror­ism tools our in­tel­li­gence com­munity re­lies on to keep the Amer­ic­an people safe,” Ru­bio wrote in a Fox News op-ed.

Ru­bio for years has po­si­tioned him­self as a vo­cal de­fense hawk in Con­gress, and he has re­peatedly de­fen­ded the NSA’s spy pro­grams re­vealed to the pub­lic by former agency con­tract­or Ed­ward Snowden.

But Ru­bio’s call to per­man­ently ex­tend the leg­al frame­work that al­lows the NSA to col­lect the bulk U.S. phone metadata—lan­guage that Con­gress has tweaked and in many cases made more per­missive since 9/11—is par­tic­u­larly force­ful. It comes in the wake of ter­ror­ist at­tacks by Is­lam­ic ex­trem­ists in France at a satir­ic­al news­pa­per and a kosh­er deli that left 17 dead—vi­ol­ence that has promp­ted European of­fi­cials to pub­licly con­sider wheth­er more force­ful sur­veil­lance laws are needed.

It also un­der­scores the di­vi­sions among Ru­bio and his fel­low Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors ex­pec­ted to jockey for the White House—namely, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Ken­tucky.

Cruz was one of only four Re­pub­lic­ans to join with Demo­crats in Novem­ber in vot­ing to pass the USA Free­dom Act, a bill that would have re­formed sev­er­al as­pects of the NSA spy­ing re­gime and would have barred the gov­ern­ment from drag­net col­lec­tion of Amer­ic­ans’ phone re­cords. Ru­bio voted against the meas­ure, and so did Paul—though for di­ver­gent reas­ons. While Ru­bio warned that the bill could hamper in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and bol­ster ter­ror­ists, Paul voted it down be­cause he said it did not go far enough.

Paul has vowed to work to block the Pat­ri­ot Act’s reau­thor­iz­a­tion en­tirely this year, though many pri­vacy and civil-liber­ties ad­voc­ates have ques­tioned the le­git­im­acy of his strategy.

Many sup­port­ers of the Pat­ri­ot Act have said one of the bill’s strongest points is that its peri­od­ic sun­sets force Con­gress to re­con­sider the au­thor­it­ies as it strives to bal­ance civil liber­ties with se­cur­ity.

“I voted for the Pat­ri­ot Act, but also be­lieved it was very im­port­ant that there was the ex­pir­a­tion of the Pat­ri­ot Act and the pro­vi­sions that would en­sure that we as mem­bers of Con­gress could ana­lyze it a few years down the road,” Rep. Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers, R-Wash., told at­tendees at the State of the Net con­fer­ence Tues­day. “Is this not just what we in­ten­ded, but is this work­ing ef­fect­ively?”

Some law­makers crit­ic­al of the na­tion’s sur­veil­lance pro­grams used Ru­bio’s op-ed to mock his po­s­i­tion. Demo­crat­ic Rep. Jared Pol­is called for the in­tel­li­gence com­munity to be­gin mon­it­or­ing Ru­bio 24 hours a day.

“If Sen­at­or Ru­bio be­lieves that mil­lions of in­no­cent Amer­ic­ans should be sub­ject to in­trus­ive and un­con­sti­tu­tion­al gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance, surely he would have no ob­jec­tions to the gov­ern­ment mon­it­or­ing his own ac­tions and con­ver­sa­tions,” Pol­is said in a state­ment Tues­day. “Maybe after his 2016 strategy doc­u­ments are ac­ci­dent­ally caught up in a gov­ern­ment data grab, he’ll re­think the use of mass sur­veil­lance.”

Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Justin Amash, in ref­er­ence to this story, tweeted “dis­qual­i­fied.” His of­fice would not cla­ri­fy what the Michigan liber­tari­an meant by the tweet.

Crit­ics of gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance, in­clud­ing Snowden, in­sist that no evid­ence ex­ists to sup­port the claim that such bulk col­lec­tion of U.S. phone re­cords help pro­tect na­tion­al se­cur­ity—and may even dis­tract in­tel­li­gence agen­cies from oth­er, more use­ful in­tel­li­gence.

Ru­bio also used the op-ed to sug­gest that tech com­pan­ies such as Apple and Google should not cre­ate too-tough-to-crack en­cryp­tion stand­ards on their mo­bile devices and di­git­al ser­vices. Sev­er­al of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er and FBI Dir­ect­or James Clap­per, have warned that so-called un­break­able tech­no­logy could hamper law en­force­ment’s abil­ity to catch crim­in­als and threaten na­tion­al se­cur­ity.

“The U.S. gov­ern­ment should im­plore Amer­ic­an tech­no­logy com­pan­ies to co­oper­ate with au­thor­it­ies so that we can bet­ter track ter­ror­ist activ­ity and mon­it­or ter­ror­ist com­mu­nic­a­tions as we face the in­creas­ing chal­lenge of homegrown ter­ror­ists rad­ic­al­ized by little more than what they see on the In­ter­net,” Ru­bio said.

Ru­bio’s of­fice did not re­spond to a re­quest for ad­di­tion­al com­ment.

This story has been up­dated with com­ments from law­makers re­act­ing to Sen. Ru­bio’s op-ed.

Brendan Sasso contributed to this article.
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