Illustration by Jim Cooke

The next commander-in-chief will be faced with tough questions about national surveillance and encryption. It’s likely that the current Apple vs. FBI encryption battle will consume the 2016 election and spill into the next presidency. And the next leader of the US will have to answer complicated, lingering questions surrounding the future of the NSA and its power to collect data on US citizens.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton and Sanders don’t really disagree on much, but surveillance is a rare point of contention. In 2001, Clinton voted in support of the Patriot Act, thereby broadening the surveillance powers of the NSA. Sanders did not. Clinton endorsed the NSA reform bill in 2015. Sanders did not, saying that the reforms didn’t go far enough.

In an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher, Clinton said the country needed to figure out what level of surveillance was acceptable and get out of their ideological corners. Clinton’s also had a few puzzling answers to the question of encryption and recently took a more hawkish stance, calling for a “Manhattan-like project” approach to solving surveillance and encryption issues.

In a recent Nevada town hall, Clinton called the Apple/FBI encryption debate “one of the most difficult dilemmas we’re faced with.” Later in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Clinton said she felt like “someone who is just feeling like I am in the middle of the worst dilemma ever.” She’s also expressed that a National Commission on Encryption “could help.”


Clinton also believes that Snowden must “face the music” for his actions. The feeling is mutual.

Bernie Sanders


Bernie Sanders is probably the most security-conscious person running for president in 2016. The Vermont senator has a knack for spotting legislation that could have serious implications for the privacy of Americans. But even Sanders understands the need to answer the conundrum of encryption.

However, instead of just calling on Silicon Valley to figure out a solution, Sanders puts the onus on government. During the fourth Democratic debate, he said that “public policy has not caught up with the explosion of technology” but admitted the government needs help flagging “lone wolf” ISIS activity.

Sanders has openly tweeted that the NSA is “out of control” and “acting in an unconstitutional manner,” and in a Time report, Sanders called the NSA “Orwellian,” which is definitely not a nod to the agency’s literary prowess. But Sanders isn’t completely abandoning US intelligence agencies. When questioned what side he was on in the recent Apple vs. FBI encryption conundrum, he stated: “I’m on both.”


Donald Trump


Trump hadn’t explicitly addressed encryption issues until he came out in support of the FBI as the agency seeks to compel Apple to help the government unlock a terrorism suspect’s iPhone. He suggested a boycott of Apple products until the company complies, although he didn’t actually stop using an iPhone himself.

Ted Cruz


Ted Cruz bills himself as an uncompromising conservative, but he has a surprisingly moderate record on surveillance. He voted in favor of the USA Freedom Act, a bill reforming the NSA’s collection of phone records. And while he later argued that it expands the government’s ability to collect call records, Cruz isn’t as stridently pro-surveillance as candidates like Marco Rubio. He’s also criticized the Obama Administration’s surveillance record.

He even supported Rand Paul’s NSA filibuster. “It is the position of the Obama administration that the federal government has the full constitutional authority to track the location of every American citizen, no matter where we walk. That is a breathtaking assertion of power,” Cruz said after Paul’s filibuster.

But last year, Cruz admitted that he hadn’t bothered to read the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), and he didn’t vote on it either. And at a recent town hall, Cruz stated that Apple should comply with the court order compelling the tech company to create software to help the FBI unlock a terrorism suspect’s iPhone.


Hours after the Belgium attacks in March, Cruz called for the need to “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized” in the US. The NYC police commissioner says that Cruz “doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.”

Marco Rubio


Marco Rubio is a lot like an overbearing mother: He thinks the only way to protect you is to watch you like a hawk no matter where you go or what you do.

The Florida Senator penned an impassioned op-ed in USA Today titled Now’s No Time to end NSA Program in May 2015. In the article, Rubio writes that “A major contributor to [our safety] has been the development and use of counterterrorism tools such as those authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Patriot Act.” The article also supports the NSA’s collection of bulk telephone metadata, stating “there is not a single documented case of abuse of this program.” Of course, that’s plainly wrong.

Rubio recently doubled-down on his backing of the NSA’s metadata collection following the San Bernardino Massacre. “We have to have robust intelligence gathering capabilities to disrupt plots. It’s one of the reasons why I was opposed to this law that even some of my opponents running for president voted for, this USA [Freedom] Act that passed a few months ago,” he said in a CBS This Morning interview. “It took away the right to collect metadata, which means that we can now not access the phone records of individuals that we either suspect of being involved in terrorism or who carry out an attack to see who they were coordinating or talking to.” Rubio is hellbent on expanding surveillance operations in the US. If he wins the presidency, expect to be tracked in every corner of the internet that you visit.


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