The Sydney Morning Herald caused a splash in the blogosphere yesterday with a somewhat alarmist article about a proposed citizen informant plan. The Herald article was quick to invoke Orwellian imagery, as in this passage in the article's second graf:
The Terrorism Information and Prevention System, or TIPS, means the US will have a higher percentage of citizen informants than the former East Germany through the infamous Stasi secret police. The program would use a minimum of 4 per cent of Americans to report "suspicious activity".
and this, later:
Historically, informant systems have been the tools of non-democratic states. According to a 1992 report by Harvard University's Project on Justice, the accuracy of informant reports is problematic, with some informants having embellished the truth, and others suspected of having fabricated their reports.
However, the Operation TIPS Web page, while fairly vague about the program's scope, doesn't seem to present such an ominous picture. Frankly, giving delivery people and utility employees an easy way to report genuinely suspicious activity makes sense. A citizen informant program certainly carries the potiential for abuse, and frankly the Bush Administration's handling of civil rights doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence right now.
I've been thinking a lot lately that if the revelations about the warnings received before the Sept. 11 attacks demonstrated anything is that extraordinary measures to "aid" law enforcement don't really seem necessary. Various law enforcement and intelligence agencies had plenty of pieces of the puzzle without expanded search and detention powers; they just didn't put them all together.
By the way, the Citizen Corps Web site also offers a downloadable, printable preparedness guide in PDF format. For the most part its suggestions are pretty common-sense stuff--knowing where the exits are, don't bring a baseball bat in your carry-on luggage, that sort of thing--but it's free and worth a look.
(via SixDifferentWays et al)