Justice puts limits on TIPS
- By William Matthews
- Aug 16, 2002
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.