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Posted 8 Aug 2002 08:33:01 UTC

An ACLU press release and salon.com story are reporting on a move which will surely make political satire irrelevant: the Department of Justice has begun forwarding calls destined for its TIPS program to the producers of the Fox television show America's Most Wanted.

TIPS is the US Government's new program, reminiscent of the East German and Soviet secret police informant programs, to "combat terrorism" by having citizens spy on each other. Under TIPS, Americans such as truck drivers or delivery people who "are in a unique position to see potentially unusual or suspicious activity in public places" will be able to call a toll-free phone number or visit a web site in order to report this allegedly suspicious activity. These reports will then be stored in a national database, the uses for which have not yet been explained. Stripped of jargon, this program is simply asking Americans to spy on their neighbors.

However, the TIPS hotline is not yet ready. And so, when salon.com reporter Dave Lindorff called the Department of Justice looking to get an early start on his suspicious-incident reporting, he was given a phone number staffed by employees of the Fox television show America's Most Wanted. When, puzzled, Lindorff questioned the operator who answered, he was told, "We've been asked to take the FBI's TIPS calls for them."

As ACLU Legislative Counsel Rachel King said, "This is like retaining Arthur Andersen to do all of the SEC's accounting. It's a completely inappropriate and frightening intermingling of government power and the private sector. What's next - the government hires Candid Camera to do its video surveillance? If it continues to cooperate with the government on Operation TIPS, America's Most Wanted should move networks and rename itself 'Big Brother.'"

As truth rapidly becomes more frightening than fiction, there's nothing that we can add to that.

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