Presidential Debates 2012

Obama Unironically Bashes Romney for Investing in Surveillance Company That Helps Government Spy on Citizens

It's only bad when countries America doesn't like do it

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"It's different when we do it because we're the good guys!"

Much of last night's debate prompted little more than eye rolls and sarcastic tweeting from me, but one comment from President Barack Obama did prompt me to actually open my mouth and mutter, "Are you fucking kidding me?"  From Politico's transcripts:

When he talks about getting tough on China, keep in mind that Governor Romney invested in companies that were pioneers of outsourcing to China, and is currently investing in countries — in companies that are building surveillance equipment for China to spy on its own folks. [emphasis added]

Just a week ago, the Supreme Court declined to consider a case involving the American government eavesdropping on its own citizens without warrants and whether telecommunications companies could be held liable for providing the backdoors to allow it to happen. The Obama administration wants to quash these types of suits, invoking national security. Warrantless digital surveillance by the Department of Justice has skyrocketed in the last two years. That Obama would boldly go there in the debate – well that certainly wasn't an attempt to grab the libertarian vote, was it?

The New York Times wrote about the company Obama's referring to back in March:

In December, a Bain-run fund in which a Romney family blind trust has holdings purchased the video surveillance division of a Chinese company that claims to be the largest supplier to the government's Safe Cities program, a highly advanced monitoring system that allows the authorities to watch over university campuses, hospitals, mosques and movie theaters from centralized command posts.

The Bain-owned company, Uniview Technologies, produces what it calls "infrared antiriot" cameras and software that enable police officials in different jurisdictions to share images in real time through the Internet. Previous projects have included an emergency command center in Tibet that "provides a solid foundation for the maintenance of social stability and the protection of people's peaceful life," according to Uniview's Web site.

Such surveillance systems are often used to combat crime and the manufacturer has no control over whether they are used for other purposes. But human rights advocates say in China they are also used to intimidate and monitor political and religious dissidents. "There are video cameras all over our monastery, and their only purpose is to make us feel fear," said Loksag, a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Gansu Province. He said the cameras helped the authorities identify and detain nearly 200 monks who participated in a protest at his monastery in 2008.

But that couldn't happen in America, right? Our governments would never partner with a private company to produce a citywide surveillance system or stalk and intimidate a distrusted minority. That would be wrong.