Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush said Tuesday that he thinks the NSA should have even broader surveillance powers to thwart "evildoers," adding that he cannot pinpoint a single instance where the intelligence agency violated civil liberties.
Speaking at a national security forum in the early voting state of South Carolina, Bush said the "balance" between privacy and security has "gone the wrong way," reported the Associated Press.
"There's a place to find common ground between personal civil liberties and NSA doing its job," said the former Florida governor. "I think the balance has actually gone the wrong way."
Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee-turned-whistleblower, leaked internal NSA documents in 2013 revealing that the communications of nearly all Americans are collected and analyzed.
In 2014, the independent bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board declared the NSA's phone records collection program illegal, noted the AP. In May, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the NSA's bulk collection of phone records is illegal and not authorized under the Patriot Act, the law the agency used to justify at least one of its spy programs, reported Reuters. Also in May, the Justice Department concluded that no major case developments resulted from the bulk records collection.
Nonetheless, Bush dismissed the appeals court and civil rights advocates who contend that the program violates Americans' constitutionally protected privacy rights, saying he could find "no evidence" that the NSA's bulk collection practices violate civil liberties. "I've found not one" case, he said, according to the AP.
Congress voted in June to significantly restrict a section of the Patriot Act that authorized bulk collection, but the vast majority of spy programs continue unrestrained and with little oversight. Bush's brother, former President George W. Bush, enacted the Patriot Act in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Bush also spoke out Tuesday against private technology firms who build encryption mechanisms into software to provide consumers broader protections from snoopers. "It makes it harder for the American government to do its job while protecting civil liberties to make sure evildoers aren't in our midst," he said.
Bush saw the biggest drop of any candidate following the first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 6. In the first Fox News poll released after the debate, Bush fell from 15 percent in the Fox poll conducted before the debate to 9 percent now, in single digits for the first time since April. He trailed Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Ted Cruz.