The MA-5 Democratic Candidates on Surveillance: Who Does Best? *UPDATED*

Here in the heavily Democratic Fifth District of Massachusetts, we know that the winner of October 15th’s Democratic primary will reliably win the general and go to Congress. The seat was last open almost 40 years ago. Bearing that in mind, we at Digital Fourth thought it pretty important to assess the Democratic candidates’ positions on the hot issue of surveillance, while the district’s registered Democrats still have a chance to affect the outcome.

We sent a standard questionnaire to all seven candidates running in the primary. We asked about whether the candidate supported requiring warrants for searches of digital data (ECPA reform); whether they would defund the “fusion centers” that capture data and generate reports on peaceful activists; whether they support the Mass. Attorney-General and Senator Clark’s proposal to expand electronic wiretapping; whether they would vote for the Amash-Conyers Amendment reining in the NSA; and finally, whether they would support Rep. Rush Holt (D-PA)’s “Surveillance State Repeal Act”, which would repeal the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act and provide protection for government whistleblowers.

All except Sen. Karen Spilka and Mr. Paul John Maisano were kind enough to respond in detail, and we have done our best to reconstruct the positions of these two candidates from past votes and public statements.

UPDATE: Sen. Spilka has provided answers to the questionnaire that place her in equal first place on surveillance, along with Rep. Carl Sciortino and Mr. Martin Long.

So, for your reading pleasure, here’s the Surveillance Voter’s Guide to The Democratic Field in MA-5!

Please click on each response to bring up the exact comments of each candidate on the topic.

Summary of MA-5 Democratic Candidate Positions

 ECPA reform?Defund fusion centers?Against wiretap bill?Support Amash Amdmt?Repeal Patriot Act?
BrownsbergerYesPartiallyYesNoPosition unclear
ClarkYesYesNoYesYes
KoutoujianYesPartiallyNoYesPosition unclear
LongYesYesYesYesYes
MaisanoYesPosition unclearPosition unclearPosition unclearPosition unclear
SciortinoYesYesYesYesYes
SpilkaYesYesYesYesYes

The key insight from this data is that we can roughly rank the candidates in terms of their level of opposition to the surveillance state.

1= Rep. Carl Sciortino, Mr. Martin Long, Sen. Karen Spilka
4 Sen. Katherine Clark
5= Sen. Will Brownsberger, Sheriff Peter Koutoujian
7 Mr. Paul John Maisano (incomplete)

UPDATE: Previously, Sen. Karen Spilka was listed behind Sen. Katherine Clark, because Sen. Spilka did not respond to our questionnaire. We had to reconstruct her answers from her previous public statements, and were not able to find them all. She now ranks equal first, along with Rep. Carl Sciortino and Mr. Martin Long.

A secondary insight, given how split Democrats are over these issues nationally (at least during Democratic administrations), is that all of the Democratic candidates in MA-5 are willing to commit to at least some meaningful reform of surveillance abuses. Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian was willing to commit to vote for the Amash-Conyers Amendment to rein in the NSA, and to require a warrant for electronic communications, and Sen. Will Brownsberger was willing to oppose the expansion of electronic wiretapping in Massachusetts and also to explore broader NSA reform and consider voting for it depending on the outcome of a robust public debate. So in general, the Democratic MA-5 candidates set a high bar relative to the average current Democrat in the House of Representatives.

However, Rep. Sciortino, Mr. Long, and now also Sen. Spilka, stand out from the pack for their deep skepticism of government surveillance efforts. They both all appear willing to support the strongest legislation currently proposed in Congress to limit government intrusion into our private communications.

3 thoughts on “The MA-5 Democratic Candidates on Surveillance: Who Does Best? *UPDATED*

    1. You’re absolutely right about her sponsorship of the wiretapping bill. In fact, Digital Fourth has led the opposition to that bill, and we have pulled no punches on this site criticizing Sen. Clark for that bill (see http://warrantless.org/2013/07/tavares_update/, for example). However, every other response to our questionnaire was answered in a way that is positive for surveillance activists. Sen. Clark even voiced support for the Surveillance State Repeal Act, which would repeal the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act altogether.

      It seems clear to me that people for whom surveillance is the most important issue in this primary, like myself, should vote for Sciortino or Long. But I was surprised to see Clark’s responses, which were markedly better than Koutoujian’s or Brownsberger’s on this topic.

  1. I should note that Sen. Clark has just joined most of her Massachusetts colleagues in cosponsoring the USA Freedom Act, the most likely to pass of the substantive NSA reform bills. So in this case, and on that vote, she is attempting to preserve our rights.

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