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The Reason Foundation
LOS ANGELES -- America's Least Wanted
By Brian Doherty
The crash and burn of the Bush administration's proposed Operation TIPS continues apace. Even though House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, nixed it in the House version of the Homeland Security bill, the Justice Department insists it will go ahead with its plans anyway, in the face of both strident opposition and amusing parodies.
Now, Salon.com reports that the Justice Department is routing calls to the Terrorism Information and Prevention System to the phone lines for America's Most Wanted, the Fox network TV show dedicated to the spirit of citizen squealing in the interests of justice and gripping voyeuristic TV.
America's Most Wanted has for years been a disturbing example of using mass private media to pursue government law-enforcement purposes. But at least it concentrated on specific known individuals wanted for specific crimes.
In an earlier piece, I compared TIPS to East Germany's dread Stasi. At least one correspondent pooh-poohed that as mere hysteria mongering. After all, he wrote, the real problem in East Germany wasn't that everyone was spying on everyone else and reporting it to the state; it was that they lacked due process.
Tell Jose Padilla about continued respect for due process in the United States during our never-ending war on terrorism.
The ultimate meaning of the FBI routing TIPS calls to a sensationalist TV show is far from clear. It may well be nothing more than a sign that the government realizes it simply doesn't have the resources to listen to, process and act on the potential millions of malicious nut-job tips they are begging for with this program.
But the possibility of having TV cameras along when they come to take you in for questioning on suspicions of being suspicious -- based on anonymous calls by unknown people with unknown motives -- is a grim one.
Having America's Most Wanted helping fight America's War on Terrorism might make a cool teaser for the Fox Network, but the whole unsavory Operation TIPS scheme deserves to be canceled faster than the ill-fated Fox TV show "Woops!"
(Brian Doherty is an associate editor of Reason magazine.)