Story highlights

Donald Trump says he would "err on the side of security" and support phone metadata collection

Trump sided with Marco Rubio over Ted Cruz, who has opposed that NSA surveillance program

Washington CNN  — 

Donald Trump sided with Marco Rubio over Ted Cruz in a debate over U.S. government surveillance, saying he would “err on the side of security.”

The Republican presidential front-runner on Tuesday told radio host Hugh Hewitt that he would support the reauthorization of U.S. bulk collection and storage of phone metadata.

“I assume that when I pick up my telephone, people are listening to my conversations anyway, if you want to know the truth. It’s pretty sad commentary,” Trump said. “But I err on the side of security.”

The National Security Agency on Sunday ended its bulk phone metadata collection, shifting to a more targeted approach two years after Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed the extent of the September 11-era program. Its end has brought the issue to the forefront of the 2016 presidential campaign.

RELATED: NSA ends bulk phone data collection

Rubio, a Florida senator, and Cruz, a Texas senator, have sparred over that issue in recent days. Cruz supported the bill that ended the government’s metadata collection program – a vote that a pro-Rubio group highlighted, casting it as weakening national security, in a new television advertisement in Iowa.

Trump said his support for security measures predates the ISIS attacks on Paris.

“When you have the world looking at us and would like to destroy us as quickly as possible, I err on the side of security,” he said. “And, so, you know, that’s the way it is. That’s the way I’ve been, and some people like that, frankly, and some people don’t like that.”

Trump has previously staked out positions in support of government monitoring – saying he’d order the surveillance of Muslim mosques to identify radicals who could be involved in terrorist plots.

He’s also said he would bring back waterboarding as an interrogation tactic, reversing the George W. Bush-era ban on its use. And he has said he’d like to see all refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war and ISIS tracked once they’re in the United States – though he opposes their resettlement within the country.