Thursday, September 15, 2005

J. Edgar Romney

Governor Mitt Romney has created quite a stir with his remarks on Homeland Security yesterday in front of the Heritage Foundation in Washington. The Boston Globe focused on remarks that the Governor made calling for the wiretapping of mosques and the surveillance of foreign students, but those were just two of the examples he gave in what was a clear call to the administration to increase efforts and powers in domestic surveillance.

Other bloggers, particularly Universal Hub, and Chimes at Midnight have touched on the wiretapping mosques issue, and Dan Kennedy has the reaction from the ACLU, so I won't spend too much time on that issue, except to say one thing. To be clear, if there is a court order and a compelling reason to place a wiretap in a specific place, then of course it should be done. Governor Romney, however, made no reference to such safeguards and seemed to imply that the government should have carte blanche powers for domestic intelligence gathering. That terrifies me personally, and it should do the same to anyone who believes in limited government power.

As far as tracking and eavesdropping on students from terror-sponsored countries goes, what exactly is Romney suggesting? That we wiretap dorm rooms? Give the Government veto power over class schedules? Send agents posing as students to spy on classmates based on their country of origin? I have to imagine that a large number of these foreign students are coming to study in America in order to get away from their totalitarian, terror-sponsoring regimes. Is treating them as criminals before they step off the plane the way to show them the power of American Freedom and Democracy? And frankly, if you're really concerned about security and not just posturing to xenophobes, you'll realize that we need the help of the 99.9% of the people who come to the United States for legitimate reasons to help us find the 0.1% (if that) who mean us harm. Is treating them all like suspects the way to do that, or is it counterproductive?

One of the great ironies in Romney's speech is that he spent much of it criticizing the amount of Homeland Security money spent on first responders, even as he argued that those very same people should have a greater role in the prevention of terrorist acts. The great asset of the states, when compared with the Federal Government, he said was that they had "lots of eyes and ears" on the ground. Romney said that the states should gather data from locals -- from the private sector, police, water & meter readers, etc, and send it to Washington. That's right, meter readers. Be careful if you use too much electricity one month -- you might end up raising a red flag!

Here's the thing that really bugs me. We have a Homeland Security Department right now that puts infants on the No-Fly list, and we're supposed to trust that they will only spy on the "bad guys". I certainly don't want to end up with my phone being tapped because I used an inappropriate amount of water for a house my size two months in a row or whatever. That doesn't even take into account the temptation for the unscrupulous to use such a domestic network to spy on their political enemies. Not that that has ever happened before.

If you'd like to see the speech for yourself, the Heritage Foundation website has the video from the event (RealPlayer link). Romney's remarks begin at 6:55 and he takes a few questions at 35:50. You'll have to slog through a litany of corporate buzzwords for about five minutes, but he does eventually talk about Homeland Security.