Politics and Privacy: Where Does Your 2016 Presidential Candidate Stand?

politicians and their stance on privacy

*Last update 3/07/2016

As the 2016 presidential primaries are only a few weeks away, candidates from around the country are fiercely campaigning to win their party’s nomination. And while they’ve all proudly argued their stance on controversial topics like budget cuts and immigration reform, when it comes to their stance on privacy (for specific grades see our infographic below), most of the presidential hopefuls are markedly less candid.

Since very little coverage is given to politics and mass surveillance, we thought it’d be helpful to take a look at each candidate’s view on the NSA and your right to privacy.

Here is where each candidate stands.

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Bernie Sanders
Donald Trump
Gary Johnson
Hillary Clinton
John Kasich
Marco Rubio
Ted Cruz
Past Candidates
Ben Carson
Chris Christie
Jeb Bush
Martin O’Malley
Rand Paul
Privacy Report Card Infographic

Bernie Sanders (D)

bernie sanders 2015
Bernie in Phoenix 2015” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Potentially the most liberal Democrat in the race, Bernie Sanders is strongly against any and all forms of mass surveillance. In fact, he finds the current scope of spying ‘unacceptable,’ stating:

“I’d shut down what exists right now — virtually every telephone call in this country ends up in a file at the NSA.”

Sanders voted against the original Patriot Act in 2001 and again in 2006. However, he did vote in favor of the first draft of the Freedom Act, which originally placed more restrictions on the NSA, but not for the updated version.

Sanders has made privacy one of his top concerns, though like Clinton, his stance may be somewhat vague:

“Privacy rights, it is a huge issue. I am not comfortable with it, but we have to look at the best of bad situations.”

Donald Trump (R)

donald trump 2015
Donald Trump” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

As with everything else, Donald Trump has a unique stance on privacy. While he seems less in favor of mass surveillance, he’s proposed “closing” down parts of the Internet to enemies of the United States of America.

“I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I sure as hell don’t want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our internet.”

When it comes to the issue of surveillance, Trump says he’s “fine” with restoring the Patriot Act because he prioritizes security over privacy:

“I assume when I pick up my telephone people are listening to my conversations anyway, if you want to know the truth. It’s pretty sad commentary, but I err on the side of security.”

Gary Johnson (L)

gary johnson 2015
Gary Johnson1” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Gary Johnson’s stance on privacy mirrors Paul’s in that both are strongly opposed to any form of government surveillance. Like Paul, Johnson was against the Freedom Act and believes it does very little to progress the rights of the American people.

“The greatest fear I have is that nothing will change. There is a general apathy for what is happening because it’s not about ‘me’.”

Johnson opposes all forms of citizen surveillance and was strongly against the Patriot Act.

Hillary Clinton (D)

hillary clinton 2015
Hillary Clinton in November 2014” by Mac Nozell is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Hillary Clinton has wobbled with her stance on the NSA. She voted for the Patriot Act in 2001 and in 2006, and she was in favor of the Freedom Act earlier this year. When it comes to discussing the issue of surveillance, she’s particularly vague:

“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…”

Clinton seems to be neither here nor there when it comes to mass surveillance. However, she’s been quite candid when it comes to Edward Snowden.

“He broke the laws of the United States. He could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.”

John Kasich (R)

john kasich 2015
Governor of Ohio John Kasich at New Hampshire Education Summit The Seventy-Four August 19th, 2015 ” by Michael Vadon is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

As the youngest state senator in Ohio’s history, Kasich is arguably the most seasoned politician on the ballot. When it comes to government snooping, he believes the NSA is necessary but feels there should be limits on its reach.

“I’m not giving carte blanche to anybody in the federal government. There has to be rules, restrictions and regulations that restrain them.”

On the Freedom Act, Kasich believes it’s a move in the right direction:

“I think is a step forward. I mean, would I have written it that way? I don’t know. I’m not there.”

Marco Rubio (R)

marco rubio 2015
Marco Rubio” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

While Rand Paul wants to end all government spying, Marco Rubio sides with Jeb Bush in wanting to extend it. According to Rubio:

“The US cannot afford to ignore another lesson of 9/11 and curtail intelligence-gathering capabilities.”

Like Paul, Rubio voted against the Freedom Act. But while Paul thought the Freedom Act went too far, Rubio thought it didn’t go far enough. Instead, Rubio would rather see a full reinstatement of the Patriot Act—all surveillance, all the time.

Everybody spies on everybody, I mean, that’s just a fact.”

Ted Cruz (R)

ted cruz 2015
Ted Cruz” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Arguably the most conservative candidate in the race, Ted Cruz has been extremely vocal about his stance against the NSA. In fact, he’s launched several attacks on his fellow Republicans who’ve urged Congress to reinstate the Patriot Act.

Cruz was one of only four Republicans who sponsored the ‘watered-down’ Freedom Act, which he says offers a much more targeted way to surveil potential threats by requiring Internet service providers to keep logs and not the federal government.

On the bulk collection of metadata, Cruz said:

“Hoarding tens of billions of records of ordinary citizens did not stop Fort Hood, it didn’t stop Boston, it didn’t stop Chattanooga, it didn’t stop Garland and it failed to detect the San Bernardino plotters.”

According to Cruz, the USA Freedom Act is a giant step in the right direction, offering a better, more intelligent way to collect data.

Candidates Who Have Dropped Out

Ben Carson (R)

ben carson 2015
Ben Carson” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Carson tends to differ from his Republican peers when it comes to the NSA. With Jeb Bush on one side of the privacy spectrum and Rand Paul on the other, Carson sits somewhere in the middle. He has vocally condemned mass surveillance, saying the system was old and outdated and has instead campaigned to monitor certain parts of the Internet.

“I think what we need to do is to monitor the Internet. We need to monitor social media. I don’t see anything wrong with trying to disrupt their [the enemy’s] communication. Being able to target them. Being able to target their servers.”

Unlike most of his Republican peers, Carson agreed with the Supreme Court’s ruling that mass data collection is illegal, saying:

“Surreptitiously tracking phone calls, purchasing activity, web site visitation history, and a host of other activities is tantamount to the illegal search and seizure forbidden by the Fourth Amendment.”

 Chris Christie (R)

chris christie 2015
Chris Christie” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Christie is one of the Patriot Act’s staunchest supporters, arguing the controversial act is about national security first and foremost.

“I will make no apologies, ever, for protecting the lives and safety of the American people. We have to give more tools to our folks to be able to do that, not fewer, and then trust those people and oversee them to do it the right way.”

He’s argued how the end of the metadata program has made America more vulnerable, stating:

“If Republicans in Congress really want to do something to protect American families, they should fight for the restoration of the metadata program and not take no for any answer.”

Jeb Bush (R)

jeb bush 2015
Jeb Bush” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Jeb Bush has been unabashedly outspoken when it comes to supporting the NSA. In fact, he’s often referred to the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program as the “best part” of the Obama administration’s entire campaign.

He’s stated time and again how the Patriot Act should be reinstated, claiming:

“There’s not a shred of evidence that anybody’s civil liberties have been violated by it. Not a shred.”

After the Paris attacks in November, Bush, along with Trump and Rubio, not only argued in favor to reinstatement of the Patriot Act with renewed vigor but also repeated the claim that government surveillance is vital for national security.

“Civil liberties are not being violated, and to have the NSA have this information is part of an essential tool for us to be kept safe.”

Martin O’Malley (D)

martin o'malley 2015
Martin O’Mally at CAP” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Martin O’Malley has a lukewarm stance on the NSA. He voted in favor of the Freedom Act, though he thinks the new reforms don’t restrict the program enough:

“The USA Freedom act was a step in the right direction, and I’m glad that it passed and the president signed it.”

But instead of publicly supporting the new bill, O’Malley thinks citizens’ rights would be better served by appointing a public advocate:

“As a lawyer myself and by training, I think our national security and our rights would be better served if we had a bigger role for a public advocate in the FISA court.”

Rand Paul (R)

rand paul 2015
Rand Paul” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Rand Paul is possibly the most vocal critic against mass surveillance in both parties. He opposed both the Patriot and Freedom Acts, and feels any form of government surveillance is illegal:

“We’ve studied this issue, and we found that the bulk data collection program didn’t catch any terrorists and didn’t prevent any attacks.”

Paul tried to prevent the Senate from passing the Freedom Act but was ultimately outvoted. Regardless, much of his campaign platform is centered on the right to privacy and is a strong advocate against any form of citizen surveillance.

More recently, Paul noted how increased government surveillance in Paris did very little to prevent terror attacks:

“The Paris tragedy happened while we were still doing bulk collection–in France, they have a program a thousandfold more invasive collecting all of the data of all the French. Yet they still weren’t able to see this coming.”

Privacy Report Card

We’ve graded each candidate based on their particular beliefs. For criteria, we looked at their stance on the Patriot Act, the original and amended Freedom Act, and their thoughts on the NSA and mass surveillance as a whole.


Now that you know exactly where each candidate stands has your stance changed? Let us know who you’re supporting and why in the comments below!