Taps for TIPS


The Village Voice's Nat Hentoff on the demise of Operation TIPS:

If it hadn't been for Dick Armey, Operation TIPS would be well under way. Before the Senate passed the House version of the Homeland Security Bill, I called John Ashcroft's office and asked when the attorney general would honor Armey's principled removal of Operation TIPS from the House bill. I was told cheerily by an Ashcroft spokeswoman that "Operation TIPS is still a law, and we're going right ahead with it."

Recently, a source inside the Justice Department told me that?contrary to what I originally wrote in this column?Operation TIPS not only wasn't Ashcroft's idea, but he was uncomfortable with the project. Being a team player, he never criticized this national-spying-corps plan publicly.

Interestingly, there was a time when Ashcroft appeared to be somewhat of a libertarian on privacy rights. Thanks to Matt Drudge's Web site, I have a copy of a 1997 statement by then senator John Ashcroft, chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Foreign Commerce, and Tourism. Titled "Keep Big Brother's Hands Off the Internet," the release by Ashcroft sounds like it was written by the ACLU:

"The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two hundred years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state's interest in crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens' Bill of Rights."

As attorney general of the United States, however, Ashcroft has rewritten much of the Bill of the Rights in the USA Patriot Act and has unilaterally eviscerated the First, Fifth, and Sixth amendments. And most sweepingly, he has revoked core Fourth Amendment privacy rights. Even for the current version of John Ashcroft, Operation TIPS may have been a tad too much.