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
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
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
"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.
© 2002 News World Communications, Inc.