by Doreen Miller
America, humility has never been thy forte! We are the arrogant masters of the game of one-upmanship in a nation known for its excesses where bigger is better and having more is a measure of personal status. We are a land of super-sized fries, giant soft-drinks, king-sized burgers and overall superfluous portions, and we have the mega-sized waistlines to prove it!
We drive the biggest, most wasteful, gas-guzzling vehicles on the planet. The world's most gluttonous consumers of natural resources, we spew forth the most pollution of any nation. We live in homes that are virtual palaces compared to the living quarters of most of the population in the rest of the world.
We own gargantuan-sized TV's purchased in city-sized shopping malls. We have many of the world's tallest skyscrapers and are home to mammoth, predatory corporations. We brag of having the largest military equipped with the world's most extensive arsenal of high-tech weapons of mass destruction bar none.
Today, we are standing on the threshold of the addition of yet another superlative to our long, dubious list of boasts: soon we are to be the largest police state that has ever existed. Our government, under the pretext of homeland security, is in the process of creating a division of secret informants whose scope promises to far surpass the level of spying achieved by the Stasi, secret police, in former Communist East Germany.
Brainchild of the Department of Justice, the Terrorism Information and Prevention System, otherwise known as Operation TIPS, falls under the Citizen Corps division of the USA Freedom Corps established earlier this year by executive order. According to the Citizen Corps website (www.citizencorps.gov), Operation TIPS will be "a nationwide program giving millions of American truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees, and others a formal way to report suspicious terrorist activity."
The pilot stage, set to begin this August, will be set up in 10 cities across the nation and will involve 1 million workers whose jobs place them in the unique position to go where regular law enforcement officials routinely cannot enter without permission or a warrant - namely, into the homes of unsuspecting U.S. residents.
Based upon their training on what to observe and listen for with regards to suspicious and potentially terrorist-related activities, these volunteers, using a toll-free hotline number, are expected to report back to the appropriate law enforcement authorities anything they may have seen or overheard. This information will then be entered into a database available to the Justice Department, related agencies and local police forces for future reference or action without the targeted individuals ever having been made aware of either the existence or the contents of such a report.
While Operation TIPS is said to be an expansion and extension of Neighborhood Watch, a popular crime prevention program in place in many communities throughout the nation, it ventures far beyond the spirit of any well-intended vigilance against crime by cutting right into the very sphere and heart of privacy expressed in the commonly accepted phrase, "My home is my castle."
The next cable TV or dishwasher repair person who enters your home could now very possibly be a government spy. Who is to say that your kid's science project - replete with wires, switches, metal tubes and batteries - laid out on the dining room table will not be mistaken for the makings of some sort of terrorist bomb? Or that a copy of "The International Socialist Review, a Journal of Revolutionary Marxism," on one's coffee table will not raise a suspicious eyebrow and unfounded fears of potentially subversive, unpatriotic behavior?
Our government officials have twisted the Miranda Rights which advise you upon arrest that "anything you say, can and shall be used against you in a court of law" to include anything "suspicious" you may say, do, listen to, or read in the privacy of your own home can and will be used against you!
Several civil liberties groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Rutherford Institute, are very much alarmed by the prospect of Operation TIPS serving to further undermine our Constitutional rights currently under attack by the USA Patriot Act. In an interview conducted by Bill Berkowitz, ACLU President Nadine Strossen warns of "potential ethnic and religious scapegoating," destructive "fear-mongering," and "the erosion of basic civil liberties in the name of unproven security measures."
The "unproven security measures" she is speaking about perhaps refer back to the track record of the Neighborhood Watch program on which Operation TIPS is based. The results of most research concerning the effectiveness of Neighborhood Watch in reducing crime rates have been mixed at best. Although some studies show some level of success, specifically in terms of burglary and property crimes, more extensive studies conducted in Chicago came up inconclusive, with some areas showing decreases, some increases, and some showing no change. Extensive research done in Minneapolis in the late 80's also found no significant differences in crime rates.
There is also the strong possibility that by "unproven security measures" Strossen is alluding to the problems inherent in relying on informants for one's information. Cited in a July 15 article by Ritt Goldstein, a 1992 report by Harvard University's Project on Justice calls into serious question the accepted practice of using informants: "The accuracy of informant reports is problematic, with some informants having embellished the truth, and others suspected of having fabricated their reports."
Representative Dennis Kucinich's quote in The Progressive should be regarded not merely as a statement of observation but as the warning it is: "It appears we are being transformed from an information society to an informant society." A discerning look back into history reveals that such informant systems have been the tool of choice among non-democratic states in controlling and eliminating "undesirables" within the populace.
At least one branch of our government service agencies refuses to be part and parcel to this invasion of our homes and privacy. According to a Bloomberg release in the local Metro paper, "Officials of the U.S. Postal Service have refused to have mail carriers participate in a government program.... proposed by President Bush as part of a terrorism prevention program." Even the Washington Post has voiced its reservations about this highly questionable spy program, "It is easy to imagine how such a program might produce little or no useful information but would flood law enforcement with endless suspicions that would divert authorities from more promising investigative avenues."
While vigilance is generally a commendable practice, especially if carried out by caring neighbors who know and speak to one another and are attuned to the daily routines within their own neighborhood, Operation TIPS runs the danger of turning trusted family members, friends, neighbors, hired workers, and public employees into cynical spies seeking to augment their own egos by being declared the next U.S. hero for doing their part to turn in "suspicious," unpatriotic, anti-American "terrorists." After all, who among us would not like to be a real, honest-to-goodness, American hometown hero? No doubt, there are millions of our fellow citizens out there just itching at the chance to be an official spy for Uncle Sam.
More and more, under the pretense of "security measures" as dictated by the ever-expanding reach of the Office of Homeland Security, the USA is becoming a mirror image of the dreadful, freedomless society so eloquently described in George Orwell's 1984.
It is all the more imperative that we remain vigilant and outspoken against any and all measures our government is undertaking to intrude into the private lives of its citizens, lest we, too, like 1984's Winston Smith, find ourselves one day furtively writing in a forbidden journal: "You had to live - did live, from the habit that became instinct - in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized."
Doreen Miller, mother, musician and poet lived, is currently a Senior Lecturer and educator of international students. She dedicates part of her time to serving the elderly and Alzheimer patients. This article first appeared at Yellow Times.org.