Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wiretapping out, secrecy provisions remain in homeland security bill

I was glad to see Rep. Lon Burnam successfully use his point of order (discussed here) to negotiate the expansion of phone surveillance out of Senate Bill 11 - the House and Senate authors both agreed to a deal to cut out the entire wiretapping section. (See coverage from the Texas Observer and the Fort Worth Startlegram.) But Burnam did not get Chairman Corte to remove the provisions I disliked making emergency plans and "security audits" secret. As I've written previously:
Keeping emergency plans secret will only mean that in crunch time the public doesn't understand the plan or what they're supposed to do. Keeping security audits secret means that when security problems are identified, politicians will experience no public pressure to fix the problems, so they may not. Secrecy in these contexts isn't just unnecessary, it's counterproductive - harmful to the goal of ensuring public safety.
I wish Ray Allen were still at the Legislature because he was the only member of either party who ever really understood this, though anybody who witnessed the abusrd attempt to evacuate Houston before Hurricane Rita in 2005 can see how silly it is to keep emergency plans and security flaws secret. After 9/11, this idea was debated ad nauseum at the Texas Lege and ultimately withdrawn because stakeholders realized it could not be justified from a safety perspective. It can only be justified from a CYA perspective.

Now the bill heads to a confererence committee - it's much improved, but in this writer's opinion the secrecy surrounding audits and emergency plans would be too detriminetal to public safety. If the conference committee doesn't fix it, to my mind that provision should merit a veto, though I won't be holding my breath.

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