Seven years ago, we began tracking the votes of members of Congress on key privacy and surveillance issues. It’s time to highlight Senate legislators who have voted consistently to protect your privacy against government intrusion.
We’re non-partisan and fact-based. We don’t rate based on whether we think a legislator is smart, nice or ethical. We rate based on what members do publicly – cosponsorships and votes – not on what they say. We grade hard, and votes on privacy and surveillance matters are also pretty rare, so if you haven’t been in Congress for long, it’s almost impossible to rate at either an A+ or an F. Go here for a detailed methodology.
In the Senate, one independent, five Democrats and four Republicans currently get an A+ rating.
To see the House Superstars, click here.
The Senate’s Nine Worthies (the order is alphabetical)
Senator Baldwin, elected in 2012, is probably better known in the privacy world for her focus on health and consumer privacy. However, she is also an original cosponsor of the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act. This bill would prevent government purchases of data that they would need a warrant for if acquiring directly. She consistently opposed Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, CISA and FBI backdoor searches of NSA data.
Elected in 2014, Senator Daines has consistently supported privacy-protecting bills. Most recently, he has proposed amending the NDAA to require DOD to reveal its purchases of bulk consumer data. He also cosponsored an amendment that would have prohibited using foreign intelligence collected under the repellent Executive Order 12,333 to prosecute US citizens.
Sen. Leahy arrived in the Senate amid the whirlwind of Watergate, and has fought gallantly for decades to preserve Americans’ civil liberties, especially by improving FISA. Since our tracking began, he has worked to add a civil liberties amicus to the FISC, strengthen privacy protections for email and browsing records, and block warrantless data purchases by government agencies. He is now retiring, and will be missed.
Elected as a Tea Party insurgent in 2011, Senator Lee has consistently fought to restrict government surveillance authorities. In 2022, he is in a hotly contested re-election race with former CIA agent Evan McMullin. Lee coauthored a proposed NDAA amendment to require a civil liberties amicus at the FISC. He has opposed mass surveillance of Americans’ web browsing, and the use of Executive Order 12,333 data to prosecute Americans.
Sen. Markey became a Congressman in 1973, and a Senator in 2013. His signature issues have been the environment and commercial privacy. He supports allowing citizens to sue federal officers for deprivation of rights; protecting US persons from device searches at the border; and giving kids an easy way to require tech companies to erase their personal data. He consistently opposed Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, and has supported FISC reforms and the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act.
Sen. Merkley has built up a deep voting record on surveillance reform, against PRISM surveillance, CISA, and warrantless FBI surveillance of your internet browsing. He has cosponsored bills to ban IRS use of facial recognition, limit border device searches and prevent warrantless government purchases of consumer datasets.
Sen. Paul has made surveillance reform a signature issue. He filibustered the renewal of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, called publicly for a pardon of Edward Snowden in 2020, and used the Snowden disclosures of 2013 to push for several reforms, including FISC reform, restrictions on PRISM surveillance, and barring the use of evidence derived from EO 12,333 against Americans in court.
Sen. Sanders rated an A on our presidential candidates’ scorecard on surveillance and privacy in 2020, which examined his record in detail. Since then, he has also cosponsored the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act.
Sen. Wyden is the strongest voice for surveillance reform on the reform-hostile Senate Intelligence Committee. From this position, Sen. Wyden has been the architect of many key proposals. He voted in committee to require the FBI to get a warrant before accessing NSA data, originated the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act, and has consistently advanced protections for Internet users’ browsing and search history. He is up for re-election this cycle.