Citizen Informers

Libertarians blast program to create network of citizen informers

WASHINGTON, DC -- A new government program that seeks to recruit millions of mail carriers, utility workers and others with access to private homes as citizen-informants should be terminated immediately, Libertarians say.

"Big Brother is watching you -- and he just might be your cable guy," said Steve Dasbach, Libertarian Party executive director. "This program will undermine the American traditions of freedom and privacy, and make us more like the nations that we abhor."

A pilot program for TIPS -- the Terrorism Information and Prevention System -- is scheduled to start next month in 10 cities. Its goal: Recruiting 1 million people with access to Americans' homes, such as letter carriers and utility workers, to report "suspicious, and potentially terrorist-related activity."

The network of citizen-informers is a component of the volunteer Citizens Corps program, which advises Americans on how to "keep their neighborhoods safe."

But the problem with TIPS is that it goes far beyond any reasonable steps to prevent terrorism and smacks of a police state, said Dasbach.

"By deputizing utility workers, delivery drivers and other private employees as de facto government agents, the government has created a way to search your home without a warrant," Dasbach said. "The only reason the government wants to recruit private citizen-spies is that they can do things the government can't do legally, such as monitor your private behavior with absolutely no suspicion that you've done anything wrong.

"These were standard tactics for the Stasi -- the East German secret police -- but they should be repugnant to every American."

When TIPS is fully operational, the United States would have a higher percentage of government informers than the former communist East Germany, according to an analysis by investigative journalist Ritt Goldstein.

"Assuming the pilot program is initiated in the 10 largest cities, about one out of 24 Americans -- or 4 percent of the population -- would become citizen-spies," Dasbach noted. "It's time to ask all Americans: Should you trust a government that doesn't trust you?"

Equally disturbing, Dasbach noted, is that the TIPS program mandates that all data collected by the citizen-informants be entered into a Justice Department database and made available to state and local law enforcement agencies.

"It's frightening to think that your plumber, UPS driver or handyman might have the power to label you "suspicious" and insert your name into a government database without your knowledge," Dasbach said.

"Informant reports are also notoriously inaccurate. A 1992 report by Harvard University's Project on Justice found that many informants routinely embellish the truth or even fabricate reports.

"Thanks to the TIPS program, you could wind up having to explain your private behavior to an FBI agent simply because the cable guy noticed something "suspicious" or a neighbor doesn't like you. Aren't those the kinds of tactics employed by the nations that we're fighting in the War on Terrorism?

"Here's a TIP: Abolish this program immediately. The U.S. government has no business spying on its own citizens."

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For release: July 17, 2002

For additional information:
George Getz, Press Secretary
Phone: (202) 333-0008 Ext. 222
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