In a campaign rally-turned-somber national security speech on Monday, Hillary Clinton laid out her plan for how the nation should respond to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history perpetrated by a lone gunman — which left nearly 50 people dead at an LGBT club in Orlando on Sunday. Much of her speech focused on the need to “step up” and improve government surveillance.
“We need better intelligence to discover and disrupt terrorist plots before they can be carried out,” she said. “That’s why I proposed an intelligence surge to bolster our capabilities across the board with appropriate safe guards at home.”
Less than an hour later, in a speech that mostly railed against Clinton and her policies, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump offered an almost identical call for enhanced surveillance.
“As President, I will give our intelligence community, law enforcement and military the tools they need to prevent terrorist attacks,” he told a crowd in Manchester, New Hampshire. “We need an intelligence-gathering system second to none. That includes better cooperation between state, local and federal officials — and with our allies.”
Clinton said of those same intelligence law enforcement officials: “These men and women deserve our respect and gratitude and they deserve the right tools and resources and training. Too often state and local officials cannot give access to intelligence to the federal government that would help them do their jobs. We need to change that.”
Civil liberties advocates told ThinkProgress they found these proposals “disturbing” and “dangerous,” arguing that the mass surveillance the government has carried over the last decade has failed to prevent acts of terrorism.
None of our dragnet surveillance programs keep us safe.
“We have seen again and again, with Dylann Roof, with Tsarnaevs, that none of our dragnet surveillance programs keep us safe,” said Kade Crockford with the ACLU of Massachusetts, referring to the perpetrators of recent mass shootings and bombings in Charleston and Boston. “From the local level all the way up to the FBI and NSA, the government is hoovering up data on entire communities, the vast majority of whom have not and will not commit any crime. These policies violate the Constitution and are complete failures.”
Crockford noted that some U.S. intelligence officials have openly complained that excessive surveillance actually makes their jobs harder, by amassing so much useless information that it becomes difficult to single out dangerous individuals. “Adding to the haystack does not make it easier to find the needle,” she said.
Crockford also took issue with the candidates’ complaint that there is not enough information sharing between the federal government and local law enforcement, pointing to a vast network of “fusion centers” the Department of Homeland Security set up across the country for that exact purpose. An investigation by the ACLU found that these centers have in some instances spied on anti-war activists, not suspects of terrorism. And a bipartisan Senate investigation in 2012 found that spending $1.4 billion on fusion centers did not make the nation any safer, and in some cases violated the Constitution by illegally spying on U.S. citizens who were never accused of a crime.
I don’t want Hillary or any other politician to use my pain to spy on me on my friends and my community.
Though Clinton did not mention fusion centers in her speech, she did call for more collaboration between the government and Silicon Valley tech companies, many of which are currently fighting government attempts to access data about their individual users. Clinton also called for the government to conduct more “tracking and analyzing of social media.”
Crockford said she vehemently opposes using the Orlando massacre as the justification for pursuing such policies. “I say this as a queer person who is deeply shaken by what happened in Orlando: I don’t want Hillary or any other politician to use my pain to spy on me on my friends and my community.”
Instead, she argued, the government should respond to the massacre by grilling FBI officials on why they failed to prevent the Orlando attack despite interviewing the perpetrator three times.
“Congress needs to step up and fulfill their oversight role,” she said. “They need to hold real hearings like we had in the 1970s and ask them tough questions. How long was the guy under investigation? What did you find out about him? Did you use informants?”
Aside from the calls for increased surveillance, Clinton and Trump’s speeches could not have been more different. Clinton argued passionately for stricter gun laws, especially for assault weapons like the AR-15 used by the gunman in Orlando on Sunday. Trump argued just as passionately for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States, and implied — incorrectly — that Muslim American communities currently harbor terrorists.