Basic Briefing

The Intelligence and Surveillance Debate

The debate on intelligence and surveillance focuses on the scope of domestic and international surveillance programs carried out by the US government. Should the NSA have the authority to collect data without probable cause? To what extent should the US government collect intelligence against foreign nations? Is the Patriot Act constitutional? Is Edward Snowden a traitor or a whistle-blower? The debate crosses party lines and there is no official Democratic or Republican position. So in the section below, we feature advocates of the liberal and conservative arguments.

Official Democratic position

Statement by Senator Rand Paul:

"Since 2006, the NSA has been spying on us, treating American citizens as no more than common criminals... We are told that these intrusive and unconstitutional measures are necessary to protect us from the forces of international terrorism... We reject this premise. We are committed to a safe America, but we do not accept the notion that a surveillance state is necessary to safeguard the lives and liberty of American citizens."

Official Republican position

Statement by Senator Dan Coats:

“Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the American people demanded that the intelligence community be able to ‘connect the dots’ to prevent terrorist attacks… The intelligence community is doing exactly what the American people asked for... These programs are legal, constitutional and used only under the strict oversight of all three branches of the government... I have no doubt that returning to a pre-9/11 security posture will make this country less safe.”

Institutional framework

The Director of National Intelligence, currently James Clapper, is the head of the Intelligence Community –the 17 agencies that gather foreign and domestic intelligence. These agencies include The National Security Agency (NSA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The NSA gathers signals intelligence and works to protect the US against cyber warfare. The CIA gathers foreign intelligence, provides policy advice, and carries out covert actions at the request of the President. The FBI is part of the Department of Justice (DOJ) that investigates federal crimes and domestic terrorism.

The 2014 budget for the 17 agencies was about $52.2 billion.

Most Vocal on Intelligence and Surveillance

These are the candidates who focus on this issue the most, with the most liberal on this issue on the left and the most conservative on this issue on the right. Click on the circles to see more information.

Paul Clements | Candidate for 6th Congressional District, primary (2018) in Michigan (MI) | Crowdpac John McCain | Candidate for US Senate, primary (2022) in Arizona (AZ) | Crowdpac James Risch | Candidate for US Senate, primary (2020) in Idaho (ID) | Crowdpac Brad Ashford | Candidate for 2nd Congressional District, primary (2018) in Nebraska (NE) | Crowdpac Ed Markey | Candidate for US Senate, primary (2020) in Massachusetts (MA) | Crowdpac Greg Conlon | Candidate for US Senate, primary (2016) in California (CA) | Crowdpac Thomas Carper | Candidate for US Senate, primary (2018) in Delaware (DE) | Crowdpac Pat Roberts | Candidate for US Senate, primary (2020) in Kansas (KS) | Crowdpac Angus King | Candidate for US Senate, primary (2018) in Maine (ME) | Crowdpac Dianne Feinstein | Candidate for US Senate, primary (2018) in California (CA) | Crowdpac

The Spectrum on Intelligence and Surveillance

These are the candidates who are most liberal, most conservative, and most moderate on this specific issue. Click on each candidate to see more information.

Relevant Committees


American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) - Nonpartisan, non-profit organization whose stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country"

National Security Administration Public Information - Information that the NSA makes publically available