GOP lawmaker: 'Epic' privacy war waged

The United States is locked in a “fight of epic proportions” on the constitutional right to privacy, according to Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), who rallied conservatives to reform government surveillance programs.

The GOP lawmaker said on Monday that revelations about the extent of snooping at the National Security Agency and elsewhere have highlighted the need to fight the government effort. Republicans should oppose those programs, he told conservative activists, in order to protect rights granted by the Constitution.

“Today we find ourselves in a fight of epic proportions as it relates to our individual liberties and their preservation. Day after day, we see news story after news story chronicling the damaging effects of our country surveillance state,” he said at Heritage Action’s Conservative Policy Summit.

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“The fact is, as usual, when you give the government an inch, they take a mile,” Salmon added of the spy programs. “We simply can’t afford to play around with our most basic, fundamental human right.”

Salmon’s remarks represent the Republican Party’s increasing libertarian tilt when it comes to surveillance programs and personal privacy. Last month, the Republican National Committee overwhelmingly voted to oppose the NSA’s controversial data collection efforts.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have joined forces to fight against hawks who have defended the spy agency. Defenders say the programs have helped to stop terror attacks and fall within the law.

Salmon last year introduced the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act in an effort to increase privacy protections for emails. The bill would prevent government agencies from being able to search email messages without a court order, as some federal officials might do as part of an investigation.

It would update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which was written in 1986 and is badly in need of an overhaul, Salmon said.

So far, 24 members of the House, many of them Republican, have jumped on to co-sponsor the measure. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

Salmon said that his presence at the conservative advocacy group’s forum should help boost the legislation’s prospects in Congress.

“Heritage has quite a following nationwide, and I’d like to put a plea to all the folks that are associated with Heritage across the country, to let their members know,” he said.

“I hope that they hear strongly from the American people that you have a job to do; get it done. And this is one of the things that can and should be done this year as part of your job.”