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Spy Vids

The Justice Department denied a report last week that it is forwarding leads from its controversial new Terrorist Information Prevention System (TIPS) program to Fox Network’s America’s Most Wanted.

According to CNN, government officials also announced last Friday, following a barrage of criticism, that the TIPS program would be overhauled to make it less invasive to people’s privacy.

Writing for the online journal Salon.com, David Lindorff reported that he visited the Citizen Corps Web site in July to enroll as an informant in the TIPS program, which had sought to enlist letter carriers, utility technicians, bus drivers, meter readers, and other workers who deal with the public by asking them to report suspicious persons or activities to the FBI.

Receiving no response for a month, Lindorff tried a phone number that, he was told, had been established by the FBI for TIPS. The number turned out to be a tipline for America’s Most Wanted , the Fox show in which unsolved crimes are dramatized. A shocked Lindorff was told by a receptionist that the show had been asked to field TIPS calls for the FBI.

According to news reports, the Justice Department claimed the call was forwarded to the show in error. The show’s host, John Walsh, has been a strong supporter of TIPS, and a recent visit to the America’s Most Wanted Web site revealed that suspected terrorists now have top billing over wanted murderers and missing children. Reached for comment, an annoyed-sounding spokeswoman for the show’s publicity department denied that America’s Most Wanted was handling the FBI’s TIPS calls. “Those are two separate programs,” she said. “We have our own leads.”

TIPS has come under intense criticism, not only from civil libertarians and congressional Democrats, but also from such conservative stalwarts as House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.). Last month, the House passed an Armey-sponsored bill to forestall the program, and Barr has called TIPS a “snitch system” reminiscent of a fascist or communist government. In response to such attacks, the Justice Department recently announced that the program would be scaled back to public places such as U.S. ports of entry, and that the department would “absolutely discourage” tips on activities taking place inside people’s homes.

—Glenn Weiser


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