Tuesday, July 23, 2002

While Dick Armey deserves kudos for (apparently) trying to kill TIPS, the administration is still strongly behind it (and shame on those who try and pretend otherwise):

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department is forging ahead with establishing a network of domestic tipsters - despite being dealt what may be a deathly blow to the plan: House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, inserted last week a ban on the program in the bill to form a new Homeland Security Department.

"The administration is continuing to pursue Operation TIPS. We're continuing with that course of action," Barbara Comstock, spokeswoman for Attorney General John Ashcroft, said in an interview Friday. That was the same day Armey's committee approved the bill. "We believe the program represents an important resource and that it's been misrepresented to date."

Operation TIPS, short for Terrorism Information and Prevention System, is one part of President George W. Bush's volunteerism initiatives. It aims to recruit millions of American workers to be alert to "suspicious" activities they encounter in their workday routines - and report them to a toll-free, federal hot line. The government is looking for "truck drivers, bus drivers, train conductors, mail carriers, utility meter readers, ship captains and port personnel," according to the program's Web site. Armey's impetus for banning Operation TIPS? "To ensure that no operation of the department can be construed to promote citizens spying on on another," he wrote in his summary of the bill. The Republican leader's opposition was the politically weightiest in a weeklong series of statements against the program, set for launch in August.

The American Civil Liberties Union declared last Monday that the program could turn utility workers into "government-sanctioned peeping Toms." Then on Wednesday the Rutherford Institute, a conservative think tank that promotes privacy and religious rights, weighed in.

"What this means for the average citizen is that whatever you read, eat or do -- in the privacy of your home or out in public - will now be suspect in the eyes of your cable repairman, postal carrier, meter man or others who, by way of the services they provide, will have access to your home," said John W. Whitehead, founder and president of the Virginia-based institute.

It isn't a coincidence that they desire what amounts to government infiltration of the nation's vital "infrastructure industries" - utilities and transportation.