At Forum, Swalwell Says He ‘Stood for Privacy Rights,’ Record Says Otherwise

Ellen Corbett, Eric Swalwell

CONGRESS | 15TH DISTRICT | Rep. Eric Swalwell said at a candidate’s forum Tuesday night in Castro Valley he voted against government intrusion into the digital records of Americans, but the assertion is false.

When the question of upholding certain privacy rights was posed, Swalwell said he voted on just one such bill since becoming a member of Congress last year.

“We cannot, must not, sacrifice our privacy in favor of security,” he said. “There is one vote on the N.S.A. that was taken in Congress and that was to defund its phone collection program and I voted against funding that program. I stood for the rights of privacy.” He added, “No law-abiding American should have their data blanketly collected.”

Swalwell is referring to his vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) last July. Although, Swalwell voted for the amendment hoping to block the N.S.A.’s plans, it ultimately failed. However, this was not the only vote he took as a member of Congress pertaining to government infringement of privacy rights revealed last spring by Edward Snowden.

His challenger this June, State Majority Leader Ellen Corbett questioned the assertion, although vaguely. “I want to say there have been some votes in Congress very recently when all members of the Bay Area delegation voted against a bill that would have allowed for looking at people’s private records without subpoenas and I’m actually very concerned about that.”

In April 2013, Swalwell was the only member of the Bay Area Democratic Caucus to vote for legislation called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) allowing the government to access users’ online activity, including social media sites and personal email without their knowledge. The bill was intended to help the government in the event of a national cyber attack, but privacy advocates said it lack protections for misuse. Although CISPA passed the House with Swalwell’s help, it was never offered in the U.S. Senate.

During an era when more Americans, regardless of their ideological beliefs, are deeply concerned over the government’s spying on ordinary citizens, Swalwell’s uneven record on the issue is an enormous target for his challengers this June and the November general election.

In the past, Swalwell, also a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, has struggled to connect the dots between his vote for CISPA, allowing the types of warrantless government intrusion described by Snowden and his subsequent reversal months later as a defender of digital privacy.

On Tuesday night, he pretended the first vote never happened.