SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson appeared Wednesday to walk back his previous support for widespread government monitoring of citizens and groups deemed “anti-American.”
Carson repeated his support for increasing FBI funding “so that we can follow people appropriately who are suspicious characters.” But, he added at a national security forum in South Carolina, it should be done with a warrant that complies with the Fourth Amendment’s protection against illegal searches and seizures.
“I don’t think we need to be spying on all Americans,” he said.
Last month, also campaigning in South Carolina, Carson said he supported monitoring “a mosque or any church or any organization or any school or any press corps where there was a lot of radicalization and things that were anti-American.”
Carson did not at the time address potential constitutional concerns, nor did he explain how his administration would determine who and what is “anti-American” or “radicalized.”
He made the original comments amid a flurry of GOP reaction to the Paris attacks attributed to Islamic State militants. Carson and others followed the lead of front-runner Donald Trump, who went so far as to suggest the U.S. government keep a database and track American citizens who are Muslim.
Carson repeated Wednesday at Wofford College that he opposes resettling Syrian war refugees in the U.S., for fear that ISIS warriors will use the program to gain entry. But he argued that fear should not lead to an overreaction.
“We need to do this in an appropriate way,” he said of counter-terrorism efforts, including surveillance. “If you need to look into somebody’s background, it’s easy enough to get a warrant to be able to do that.
“We must not allow our civil liberties to be violated, our Fourth Amendment to be violated because we are afraid,” he said, “because that’s happened in too many countries.”
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