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Anti-Terror Bill on Tips Hits Skids

July 19, 2002|From Newsday

WASHINGTON — A controversial government program that would encourage citizens to report suspicious behavior that could be linked to terrorism would be prohibited under legislation headed for approval by a House panel today.

Critics spanning the spectrum from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Libertarian Party to conservative Republicans have denounced the proposal, suggesting it would divide Americans and jeopardize privacy.

The Select Committee on Homeland Security, headed by House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), proposed banning any operation that would "promote citizens spying on one another ... and prohibit programs such as Operation TIPS," the Bush administration's plan to enlist average Americans, such as truckers and mail carriers, to be on the lookout for potential terrorists. They would report their concerns to the Justice Department using toll-free hotlines throughout the country in a pilot program expected to launch in August and attract 1 million volunteers.

An Armey spokesman said, "There's a better way to involve the community in homeland security."

"Communities should be working together, not being suspicious of each other," spokesman Richard Diamond said.

There were signs this week that the administration was downplaying the initiative in the wake of widespread media coverage. The Justice Department, responsible for administering the program, for example, changed its Web site, removing specifics about who was expected to participate and when the effort was scheduled to begin.

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