As senator, Obama wanted to curb data collection he now defends

Then-Sen. Obama's bill would have drastically limited the mass collection of phone records by the government

Published June 7, 2013 2:00PM (EDT)

As a senator in 2005, Barack Obama sponsored a bill that would have drastically limited the mass collection of phone records by the government -- the same kind of thing his administration is now defending as necessary to fighting terrorists.

The SAFE Act, introduced by former Republican Sen. Larry Craig, would have amended the Patriot Act to require government agents to show they have "specific and articulable facts" that a targeted person is an "agent of a foreign power" before accessing their phone records, the Hill's Brendan Sasso reports.

When they too were in the Senate, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel were both among the 15 co-sponsors as well. Experts told Sasso that the bill would have outlawed the kind of data collection that came to light this week.

"The bill very much limit[ed] the scope of these secret orders to people who are believed to be bad guys instead of innocent citizens," said George Washington law professor Jeffrey Rosen. "It was great that Obama sponsored it at the time, and too bad he has abandoned that principle."

In 2007, as he was gearing up for his first presidential campaign, Obama said his national security vision "means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing but protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient."

By Alex Seitz-Wald

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Barack Obama Chuck Hagel Civil Liberties Data Mining John Kerry National Security Agency Verizon