Justice puts limits on TIPS

The telephone installer won't be using the terrorism TIPS hot line to report what he sees in your house after all. And the mailman won't e-mail messages about you to the FBI.

Operation TIPS will go on, but without help from tens of thousands of workers whose jobs give them access to homes and private property, the Justice Department has decided.

The department's Bureau of Justice Assistance plans to give $800,000 to the National White Collar Crime Center (www.nw3c.org) to set up an Internet-based system and a telephone hot line that workers in certain industries can use to report activity or incidents that might indicate terrorist activity.

The National White Collar Crime Center, a nonprofit organization, plans to establish a system that automatically forwards information from callers and e-mailers to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, the Justice Department reports. Data will not be stored in a central government database, Attorney General John Ashcroft has said.

Initially, the Justice Department hoped to enlist a broad range of workers in the TIPS program, including letter carriers, utility workers, cable TV installers and others whose jobs regularly take them into communities.

But an outcry over the idea of enlisting service workers to spy in American homes prompted the department to narrow its army of informants. Participation in the program now will be limited to workers in the transportation, trucking, shipping, maritime and mass transit industries, and they are to report only what they observe in public places, the Justice Department announced.

"It's a relief that utility workers or letter carriers will not be recruited to snoop on private activity in our homes," said Rachel King, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. But it's "still troubling that armies of truckers, dockworkers and railway personnel untrained in the demands of our civil liberties will be enlisted to snoop," King said. "America should never be a place where citizen is pitted against citizen."

Justice Department officials have said that the incident reporting hot line and Web site could help police across the country "connect the dots" during a terrorist attack by alerting police to separate terrorist strikes occurring in multiple locations.

The National White Collar Crime Center was hired by the Justice Department immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to operate a Web page (https://www.ifccfbi.gov/complaint/terrorist.asp) where the public can report information related to terrorist activity to the FBI. The page has received more than 200,000 tips.

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