Christie backs NSA phone records program
© Greg Nash

Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) said Friday he supports the National Security Agency's phone records collection program and called for reauthorizing the Patriot Act.

Christie, who is weighing a 2016 run, said he disagreed with a federal court ruling on Thursday that the NSA’s activities are illegal and were not authorized by Congress. He said the agency's collection of phone metadata was critical to preventing terrorism and could be done legally.

“I think it can be done in a way that is not only constitutional but protects national security,” he said on the second day of a trip to New Hampshire, according to The Associated Press.

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“I’m not one of those folks who believe that we should bring our guard down, especially during this really dangerous time,” added Christie.

Christie said that Congress could provide “appropriate oversight” of the program. He also urged Congress to renew the Patriot Act’s surveillance provisions before they expire on June 1.

“I’m probably the only person in these discussions who’ve actually used it and I know how important a tool the Patriot Act is to help prevent terrorism, to intercede before a terrorist act occurs,” said Christie, who was a U.S. attorney for New Jersey before becoming governor.

“And I’m not somebody who’s going to back off at all from the Patriot Act,” he added.

The Patriot Act’s Section 215 is used as the legal justification for the phone surveillance programs. That section and other key provisions are slated to expire June 1.

The House is slated to vote this week on the USA Freedom Act, which would renew those provisions but with other reforms to rein in NSA surveillance. The measure is also backed by the White House. But in the upper chamber, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is pushing a clean reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

Thursday’s court ruling also highlighted the divide among 2016 GOP hopefuls over the nation's surveillance programs.

Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), a tough critic of the NSA, on Friday said Congress “must repeal” the Patriot Act’s Section 215. 

He previously hailed the court ruling against the NSA on Thursday as a “monumental decision for all lovers of liberty.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) disagreed with Paul’s remarks the same day.

“The solution is not to get rid of a program at a time when we know that the risk of homegrown violent extremism is the highest it’s ever been,” he said on the Senate floor.