Domestic surveillance in the United States is worse than China, according to Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson – a fierce critic of the National Security Agency (NSA) and supporter of exiled whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Speaking during a live Q&A session with The Daily Beast, Johnson said: "China has a much lower incarceration rate than the United States, they don't spy on their citizens like we do with the NSA." When questioned further, he highlighted the vast spying apparatus first exposed in 2013 by Snowden that included mass surveillance programmes including Prism and XKeyscore – which routinely scoop up telephone, email and internet data of civilians.
"You're saying China doesn't spy on their citizens, that surveillance is less than the US?" the interviewer asked. Johnson replied: "Yes! With the NSA? With the metadata they we are collecting, I mean, come on. [China] may have the capability but they do not spend the money."
When probed about how the Chinese government – which routinely suppresses political dissent and opinion via its so-called 'Great Firewall' – is monitoring its population, Johnston countered: "What do you call the NSA and the satellites that are trained on us and the fact that 110 million Verizon users are having everything we do on our cell phones being data-collected?"
The stance on privacy, national security and the surveillance state firmly sets the outspoken presidential candidate apart from his headlinegrabbing competition, including democratic favourite Hillary Clinton and billionaire businessman Donald Trump. Indeed, both of these potential frontrunners have indicated they would expand the powers open to the NSA, CIA and FBI rather than reining them in.
As noted by The Nation, Johnson has long been a critic of the NSA and in 2013 he even appeared at a rally called 'Stop Watching US' that protested the "egregious government overreach" of spying programmes. Additionally, speaking to Newsmax TV in May this year, he declared that if he was president he would pardon Snowden.
"This is someone who has divulged information that we would not know about currently — and that's the United States government spying on all of us as US citizens. I don't want to see him in prison," he said.
However, his somewhat controversial opinions are not limited to security issues. During The Daily Beast Q&A he also touched on topics including the ongoing fight against Islamic State terrorists and foreign aid.
When asked on how he would respond to the recent spike in Isis-related attacks around the world, including Orlando, Paris and San Bernardino, he said: "Involve Congress in a debate and a discussion over how we proceed."
He elaborated: "Let's have a national debate on how we proceed. And then recognise that Isis is really, regionally, it's very contained. There are not many members of Isis. 200 Al Qaeda members after 9/11, 40,000 Isis members today.
"The fact that we bomb them, the fact that we have this rhetoric, and the fact that we do have boots on the ground, that we fly drones and kill thousands of innocent people — these are recruiting tools for Isis."
In a rather Trump-like stance on sending foreign aid to other countries, Johnson said: "We shouldn't be sending foreign aid anywhere. We have our own needs – why are we building roads, bridges, schools and hospitals anywhere in the world other than here?"