WASHINGTON – In the din over the recent National Security Agency leaks, Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado has emerged as one of the leading voices against government surveillance.
Udall will sit down to talk about the NSA scandal today on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Last week, the first-term Senate Democrat made the media rounds on political talk shows, appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley and ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
Udall has been consistent in his position on security, but in this case, his stance could pit him against the Obama administration. Some political analysts believe that his re-election in 2014 might depend on distancing himself from Obama.
But Udall has long held concerns about the NSA’s metadata program and privacy issues within the Patriot Act. In October 2001, as a U.S. House representative, Udall voted against the Patriot Act. The vote in the House was largely split along party lines, with 62 Democrats and three Republicans voting against it.
Udall was the only Colorado representative to vote against the bill, although he agreed with some clauses, such as the wiretapping clause. The bill had allowed for expanded email and Internet monitoring of suspected terrorists, according to a 2001 article in the Colorado Daily.
Two years ago on the Senate floor, Udall again spoke out against government overreach.
“The intelligence community can target individuals who have no connection to terrorist organizations, they can collect business records of people who have no connections to terrorists,” Udall said.
Under the current version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, also known as FISA, the government can collect any records that are “relevant.”
“Records are automatically ‘relevant’ if they belong to a terror suspect, anyone connected with that suspect or the ‘activities’ of such a suspect,” said Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute who focuses on technology and civil liberties.
The government therefore is allowed to record the time, data and phone numbers of any individual, but not content.
On Thursday, Politico – a D.C.-based news organization that covers national politics – leaked the draft of a proposed bill by Udall and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., that would amend FISA. According to the bill, the government would have to provide “specific evidence for court orders to produce records and other items in intelligence investigations.”
Sanchez said the government would need a suspicion and would need to justify that suspicion to a court before proceeding with surveillance of an individual.
In the wake of the NSA scandal, an anti-Washington sentiment is brewing in Colorado and the rest of the nation, said Bob Loevy, a political scientist at Colorado College.
“It looks as though there may be an anti-Washington, anti-Obama trend running in a state that is highly critical of the government and government overreach,” Loevy said. “This is a scary election coming up for any Democrat, and Udall wants to cast himself against the Washington gang and not as a Washington insider.”
A step away from Obama and his policies could be a step in the right direction for Udall. Though the Centennial State went blue for Obama in 2012, the president received a 54 percent disapproval rating in a recent Quinnipiac University poll.
“Colorado voters have little love for Obama,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute.
Coloradans approved of Udall’s job 45 to 31 percent.
Still, others said the privacy-versus-protection issue has caused rifts among both parties.
John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have expressed support for the NSA program.
“It’s a split in an issue affecting both parties,” Straayer said. “I suspect many members of Congress are conflicted in their views. Nobody wants another 9/11, but no one wants to give up their privacy.”
Jason Stanford, a Democratic consultant and partner at the Truman National Security Project, also said that he does not foresee the issue breaking down along party lines.
“I don’t see Udall as taking a position that will cause any political problems for him,” Stanford said. “It is bad political advice to tell a Democrat to run away from Obama.”
Leigh Giangreco, a recent graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., is working as an intern for the Herald.