ACLU Says Bush Administration Should Not Allow Operation TIPS To Become An End Run Around Constitution

July 15, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today questioned the prudence of a proposed Bush Administration initiative that would recruit a million letter carriers, utility workers and others whose jobs allow them access to private residences into a contingent of organized government informants.

“”The Administration apparently wants to implement a program that will turn local cable or gas or electrical technicians into government-sanctioned peeping toms,”” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.

At issue is a program that will be bundled into President Bush’s new volunteer Citizen Corps and called Operation TIPS (Terrorist Information and Prevention System). According to the White House, Operation TIPS is scheduled to be introduced as a pilot project in August 2002 and would recruit one million volunteers in 10 cities across the country who would be encouraged to report suspicious, ostensibly terrorism-related activity. The program will target volunteers who because of their work as, for example, letter carriers and utility technicians are “”well-positioned to recognize unusual events,”” the White House says.

The ACLU is concerned that law enforcement will use these new volunteers — especially those whose occupations allow them to enter homes and monitor citizens – to search people’s residences without a warrant. Also worrisome is the potential for the program to adversely affect the fight against terrorism by wasting resources on useless tips and the possibility that the program would encourage vigilantism and racial profiling.

The Washington Post editorialized against the program this weekend: “”Americans should not be subjecting themselves to law enforcement scrutiny merely by having cable lines installed, mail delivered or meters read. Police cannot routinely enter people’s houses without either permission or a warrant. They should not be using utility workers to conduct surveillance they could not lawfully conduct themselves.””

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