Sen. Marco Rubio on Monday connected the threat from the Islamic State terror group to recent action by Congress that he said weakened the U.S. intelligence community's surveillance powers — and one of his leading presidential opponent's votes on it.
The Florida Republican said the enactment of the USA Freedom Act left America "unnecessarily vulnerable" to terrorist threats. That was the legislation that eliminated the federal bulk collection of telephone records, moving data to the telephone companies. "I think it's a distinctive issue of debate in the presidential race," Rubio said at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council forum. "At least two of my colleagues in the Senate aspiring to the presidency — Sen. [Ted] Cruz in particular — have voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence programs just in the last month-and-a-half."
The final Senate vote on that measure was 67-32, with Rubio in a minority of opponents led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Among presidential hopefuls, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas voted in favor of the overhaul bill that was ultimately passed after the broader authorities lapsed, while Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky both voted no.
But Rubio and Paul are at opposite poles on the political spectrum on surveillance powers.
A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Rubio also called for new cooperation from the technology sector and powers to break encryption. Federal law enforcement raised the issues associated with encryption of cellphone data on Capitol Hill in July, with FBI Director James B. Comey, testifying about the issues during a pair of Senate hearings on the same day.
"The No. 1 obligation of the federal government is to provide for the national security of the United States," Rubio said. "If someone in the federal government is found abusing these programs and these authorities, they should be fired and prosecuted for having done so. That said, we need to have real-time access to any actionable intelligence that will allow us to save Americans' lives."
Rubio said there was no reason to think the federal government would generally spy on Americans.
"That's not happening, but we need to have access to this information in order to save lives, especially in an exigent circumstance," Rubio said. "This is a unique threat."
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