President Bush signed a law Monday creating a Department of Homeland Security to prevent terrorist attacks. The bill extends government access to e-mail and phone records, and authorizes integrating government and private-sector information for "data-mining," which could ultimately collate such data as credit-card transactions, medical, library, academic and other records, to look for suspicious activity.
-- News reports
Some of the law's more obscure provisions allow the DHS to use the data to contact Americans to ask them personally to join the war on terrorism, as these sample letters show:
The Theodore Kaczynski Amendment: "Dear American: Records show you have recently shopped at a sporting goods store and have purchased, among other 'red-flag' items, a tent and a compass. Tents can be used by terrorists to hide out in America's beautiful wilderness areas and assemble explosive devices. A compass could aid in finding the direction of Mecca. Because cross-referencing to our membership database shows you do not belong to any scouting or related organization, DHS officers will be contacting you to ask you to prove, among other things, that you can tie a sheepshank knot and whittle a duck decoy out of a hunk of wood, or give them a good reason why not."
The Restaurant Protection Amendment: "DHS records show you have not patronized any of the nation's fine fast-food restaurants in at least two weeks, and no correlation-search of your medical records indicates any health condition that would prevent your enjoying the all-American meal of burger, fries and cola. (Be advised: A second notice could bring DHS officers to your home unannounced to search for evidence of couscous.)"
The Family Values Amendment: "Records show you have purchased an over-the-counter pregnancy test within the last week. Please be advised that we have sorted through your trash to find the test results. A positive pregnancy test means DHS family counselors will be coming to your home or place of business to speak with you, your family, neighbors and co-workers, to ensure that your pregnancy means the nation will be welcoming another fine young American citizen in (fill in the blank) months' time. Congratulations, Mom!"
I made all that up -- at least I hope I did; who knows what the feds are cooking up? The new homeland security laws make it harder for us to find out what they're up to, and easier for them to get a fix on us.
Bill Bratton, Los Angeles' police chief, has been exhorting his new city to get angry about gangbangers run amok in L.A. Can't anyone out there spare a little fury for the forces running amok in D.C.?
The bill flagrantly cloaks in "national security" legislation so porky it could win a blue ribbon at a county fair. U.S. companies that move their business offshore, out of the great American homeland, to dodge paying federal taxes can now get a juicy piece of the antiterrorism cash-pie by landing federal contracts. Some patriots leave the country to keep from paying their own taxes, but can get big government checks -- the taxes you and I pay but they don't.
Want more? The Pentagon is independently ramping up a "Total Information Awareness" mega-database to correlate bank deposits, Internet surfing, magazine subscriptions, academic grades, medical information, credit card transactions. If you do it, Big Colonel could pretty much know about it.
The man in charge of this massive e-snoop is John Poindexter, national security advisor to Ronald Reagan, the president who railed against "big gub'mint." Poindexter was convicted of Iran-Contra felonies such as destroying documents, lying to Congress -- the usual Beltway rap sheet. His conviction was overturned because of some bollix in his immunity agreement. Asked about this record, President Bush released a statement saying Poindexter "has served our nation very well." Absolutely right: He just didn't serve it long enough for my liking, not a single day of his six-month jail sentence.
So what, you're saying. I'm not doing anything wrong. Let 'em look.
Who gets to define "wrong"?
In the paranoid 1950s, the feds could keep you from getting a job if you were on the "wrong" side of security-check questions like, "What do you think of female chastity? Do you follow the United Nations' activities? Is it proper to mix white and Negro blood plasma?" Indiana demanded loyalty tests for pro wrestlers. A scientist was kept off a government panel because he was arrested at a protest to integrate a swimming pool.
So I ask you again, who gets to define "wrong"?
I don't know what homeland this purports to defend, but it doesn't sound like the one I grew up in. You may have heard of it. The land of the free ... the United States of America.
Patt Morrison's columns appear Mondays and Tuesdays. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.