This summer the public learned of the latest wrinkle in President Bush's Citizen Corps: a program known as the Terrorism Information and Prevention System, or Operation TIPS. The initial plan was, in essence, to deputize 1 million Americans as government informants, with the intention of expanding the program next year.
The announcement names "American truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees, and others" as potential members of this proud army of busybodies. A Washington Times story on the program pointed out that some of these people have jobs that "allow them access to private homes."
In reaction to such fears, the Justice Department later announced that the TIPS "hotline number will not be shared with any workers, including postal and utility workers, whose work puts them in contact with homes and private property."
The Teamsters and Longshoremen's unions, meanwhile, are still honored and excited to participate. But Congress was less enthusiastic. As of late July, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) had excised TIPS from a committee version of the Homeland Security bill. The Justice Department announced that it still intended to continue with its plan.
The program probably would bury bureaucrats in thousands of vague, frightened (or malicious), meaningless reports that sully the reputations of the innocent. Whether or not the program ultimately goes into effect, the Justice Department's initial enthusiasm for it, even in the face of public and congressional opposition, is a frightening sign for the future of civil liberties.