Planned volunteer-informant corps elicits '1984' fears

Washington Times 07/16/02: Ellen Sorokin

Original Link:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/national/20020716-75882632.htm

As part of the country's war against terrorism, the Bush administration by next month wants to recruit a million letter carriers, utility workers and others whose jobs allow them access to private homes into a contingent of organized government informants.

The Terrorism Information and Prevention System (Operation TIPS), a national reporting pilot program, is scheduled to start next month in 10 cities, with 1 million informants or nearly 4 percent of Americans initially participating in the program.

The program will allow volunteers, whose routines make them well-positioned to recognize suspect activities, to report the same to the Justice Department, which is running the project. The Justice Department will enter the information into a database, which will then be broadly available within the department, and to state and local agencies and local police forces. At local and state levels, the program will be coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Operation TIPS is one part of President Bush's new volunteer Citizen Corps program that urges Americans to keep their neighborhoods safe. The program is described on the government Web site www.citizencorps.gov.

"This broad network of volunteer efforts will harness the power of the American people by relying on their individual skills and interests to prepare local communities to effectively prevent and respond to the threats of terrorism, crime, or any kind of disaster," the program's description on the Web site states.

The program has already alarmed several civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rutherford Institute, which say the administration should not allow TIPS to become "an end run around the Constitution."

Critics say that having Americans act as "domestic informants" is reminiscent of the infamous Stasi, the new-disbanded communist East German secret police service that snooped on dissidents and ordinary East German citizens for more than 40 years, compiling a huge catalogue of notes.

Rachel King, an ACLU legislative counsel, said yesterday the organization is concerned that law enforcement will use the volunteers, especially those whose occupations allow them to enter homes and monitor residents to search people's residences, without a warrant. She said that the organization is also worried that the program will adversely affect the fight against terrorism by wasting resources on useless tips and that the program will encourage vigilantism and racial profiling.

"The administration apparently wants to implement a program that will turn local cable or gas or electrical technicians into government-sanctioned peeping Toms," Miss King said.

John Whitehead, executive director of the Rutherford Institute, agreed.

"This is George Orwell's '1984.' It's an absolutely horrible and very dangerous idea," he said. "It's making Americans into government snoops. President Bush wants the average American to do what the FBI should be doing. In the end, though, nothing is going to prevent terrorists from crashing planes into buildings."

A Justice Department official in charge of answering questions about Operation TIPS was out of the office yesterday and not available for comment.

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