Sen. Bernie Sanders would “absolutely” end sweeping surveillance powers at the National Security Agency, he said during the first Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday.

Without going into detail about his intentions for the agency, the Vermont Independent, who identifies as a democratic socialist, trumpeted his status as one of the few congressional opponents of the Patriot Act in the wake of the 9/11.

{mosads}“I’d shut down what exists right now — is that virtually every telephone call in this country ends up in a file at the NSA,” Sanders said. “That is unacceptable to me.”

The NSA’s bulk collection of millions of U.S. phone records is set to end later this year, following a dramatic congressional battle earlier this year that resulted in the brief expiration of some portions of the Patriot Act.

Still, Sanders’s stance puts him at odds with front-runner Hillary Clinton, who voted for the Patriot Act and defended her vote on Tuesday evening.

“It was necessary to make sure that we were able, after 9/11, to put in place the security that was needed,” Clinton said.

“What happened, however, is that the Bush administration began to chip away at that process, and I began to speak about their use of warrantless surveillance.”

Clinton and Sanders have offered slight but notable differences on their support for federal surveillance reform in recent months.

When the Patriot Act reform bill came up in Congress earlier this year, Sanders voted against it on the grounds that it did not go far enough. Clinton supported it.

On Tuesday evening, the two also offered nuanced differences on the fate of Edward Snowden, the former government contractor whose leaks set the country on a path to reform the NSA. 

“He broke the laws of the United States,” Clinton said. “He stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands. So I don’t think he should be brought home without facing the music.”

Sanders similarly believed that Snowden “did break the law,” but said that his crimes ought to be weighed against the benefits of what he did.

“I think that Snowden played a very important role in educating the American people to the degree to which our civil liberties … are being undermined,” Sanders said.

Tags Bernie Sanders Hillary Clinton National Security Agency
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