I mentioned the other day that an alarmist story on the citizen informant initiative Operation TIPS seemed to be long on Orwellian rhetoric and short on concrete information. CharlesMurtaugh, who expounded eloquently and at greater length, passes on a couple of interesting bits of information. For example, the US Postal Service has apparently indicated it won't participate. Murtaugh also links to a National Review Online article by the libertarian Cato Institute's Robert Levy, in which he not only expresses concerns about--at the very least--the program's potential for abuse, but also goes on to doubt its ultimate effectiveness.
According to press reports, the government recruits will be well positioned to recognize suspect activities. Never mind that your typical letter carrier or utility worker — with all due respect to both professions — possesses neither the experience nor the expertise to pass judgment on what might be considered suspicious. Despite that, the new breed of federal informants is going to identify potential mischief and potential mischief-makers, then report directly to the Justice Department, where all that information will be stored in a central database — yet another database containing names of persons who have not been charged with any wrongdoing. Attorney General John Ashcroft and his staff will, in turn, make the database available to state and local authorities, for who knows what purpose.
...if the administration merely seeks more and better information from diligent citizens, then why not simply publish a phone number where questionable behavior can be reported? That would reach 285 million Americans, not just a paltry eleven million. Instead, the Justice Department will identify a special cohort of citizens who are presumably able to perform investigative work that the rest of us aren't positioned or equipped to perform. The administration's motives may indeed be pure. But the law of unintended consequences is apt to prevail.
...the program almost certainly won't work. In fact, it is more likely to be counterproductive. With limited resources to battle terrorists, federal, state, and local authorities definitely don't need an avalanche of worthless tips.