Swalwell Again Avoids Questioning Over His Vote Allowing Government Spying

CONGRESS | 15TH DISTRICT | For the second straight public forum, Rep. Eric Swalwell again sidestepped his April 2013 vote that would have allowed the government to request the Web histories of ordinary citizens without their knowledge. Swalwell voted for the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, known as CISPA, which passed by the House last spring, but was never taken up by the U.S. Senate.

Similar to a candidate’s forum for the 15th Congressional District held April 15 in Castro Valley, Swalwell failed to acknowledge the likely problematic vote for privacy advocates and, instead, focused his response solely on another government spying vote he supported, a budget amendment to defund the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program of warrantless monitoring of cell phone metadata.

“There was one vote on the NSA spying program, just one vote in the Congress,” said Swalwell, a first-term congressman seeking re-election, “and that vote was to defund the program and I voted to defund the program.”

In the past, as an Alameda County prosecutor, Swalwell said he successfully used cell phone metadata to prove some of his cases, however, with a warrant. Speaking of his vote to defund the NSA program last July, he said, “There reason I did that, and it wasn’t easy because I was a prosecutor and for seven years, I used cell phone data to prove many of my cases.” Swalwell prosecuted his last three homicide using cell phone data, he said. “But in each and every one of those cases I had to go to a judge and I had to get a warrant. I had to show probable cause that I could go in and invade the privacy of the person whose cell phone record I was seeking to use.”

The NSA, he said, is not following this procedure when it seeks records in bulk without any correlation to fighting terrorism from abroad. “We must not sacrifice privacy for security,” he added.

It’s the second time Swalwell’s Democratic challenger, State Sen. Ellen Corbett, has gently referred to her opponent’s vote on CISPA. “The role of congress is to protect citizens and, again, one of our most important, precious things is our personal privacy. It is Congress’ role to ensure an agency such as the NSA performs the role it was set up to do, not unduly intrude upon the privacy of individuals.” When it came to CISPA, Corbett later added, “One member of the California delegation voted for that measure.” That person being Swalwell.

The replay among the three candidates over government spying was so similar to two weeks ago that it suggests it will become a major campaign theme in the November general election. Republican Hugh Bussell also registered a similar refrain to two weeks ago by acknowledging the government illegally spied on Americans. “Congress has a fundamental oversight right and a fundamental responsibility over the NSA,” said Bussell. He then added, “The only reason [the NSA is] there is to protect us. It’s not there to spy on us. Well, we should say, it wasn’t created to spy on us.”

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