A number of congressional candidates are making their opposition to the growing surveillance state a part of their primary campaigns.
In Orange County, Calif., Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen is running in the Democratic primary for the open congressional seat vacated by Democrat Rep. Loretta Sanchez.
“My dad was surveilled back when he was in Vietnam,” says Nguyen, whose family escaped the Vietnam War as refugees. Speaking to The Intercept, Nguyen adds that he opposes “having programs that give the government a path to spy on us.”
Alex Law is a young populist candidate challenging Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., in the Democratic primary. When asked why he’s running, he quickly points out that his opponent voted against efforts last year to reform the National Security Agency’s metadata surveillance program. Law notes that Norcross, who voted with Republicans on a range of issues including the Keystone XL pipeline, is part of the New Jersey political establishment. Law says Norcross’ votes against even fairly minor changes to the NSA emboldened him to run.
Pramila Jayapal, another insurgent progressive, is running in the Democratic primary for the open seat left by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash. Jayapal has stressed economic issues, taking on money in politics, but she also has a record of speaking out on privacy issues as a member of the state Senate.
Last year, as the Washington legislature debated the use of body cameras on police officers, Jayapal championed an effort to keep cameras on at all times — but to use the video only for police accountability and not crime prevention. Worried about state residents being “surveilled all the time,” she argued that the video should be deleted if no complaints against an officer are filed.
In one of the most high-profile races this year, former Sen. Russ Feingold is preparing for a rematch, vying for his old seat against Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc. Feingold was the only member of the Senate to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001, and more recently, has spoken out against mass surveillance. He told reporters last year that the USA Freedom Act, the law to reform the metadata program, did not go far enough in protecting civil liberties. Johnson, on the other hand, has touted his ties to the NSA as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He also successfully pushed legislation to increase information sharing between the private sector and the NSA.
While there are very few interest groups — and no Super PACs — pressuring candidates to support privacy, there is an emerging bipartisan coalition in Congress focused on those issues. Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., Tom Massie, R-Ky., Justin Amash, R-Mich., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., as well as Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., are among the members who have loudly called for curtailing the surveillance state, including reforming the powers of the FBI and NSA.