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
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.