Security and Privacy
FBI Guidelines

1984 in 2002?

Weekly Column by Congressman Bob Barr (GA-7)

Though more than 10 months have passed since September 11th, America and its citizens are still experiencing the very real threat of terrorism, and seeing firsthand, the effects it is having on our democracy. How we have responded to this threat, however, and how we will continue to respond to this threat goes to the very heart of not just what we as a nation stand for, but also to what type of nation we want to continue to be. A proposed information-reporting system � TIPS (Terrorist Information and Prevention System) � brings George Orwell's 1984 into the 21st century.

The basic principles upon which our nation was founded and our Founding Fathers enshrined in our Constitution, must not be lost. America has come too far, worked too hard, and achieved too much to allow these terrorists to undermine and destroy our freedoms. Yet, each and every time our government engages in an action to ostensibly prevent terrorism, actions at odds with our Constitution, the more the terrorists will have succeeded.

America stood strong on September 11th and we must continue to stay strong in the days and months ahead, as we seek to achieve an essential balance between protecting our homeland and protecting our constitutional freedoms. This is an ongoing debate, and one that requires the attention and participation of all citizens. Freedom ceded to government, is freedom forever lost.

This important fact is among several reasons why all of us, especially those of us in the Congress currently debating the Homeland Security legislation, must take a very close and serious look at a recent initiative proposed by the Administration. This is the so-called TIPS program; which would involve, as early as next month, the recruitment of up to one million citizens � or nearly four percent of Americans � to monitor their fellow Americans and report suspicious activity to the federal government. According to the Administration, Operation TIPS is scheduled to be introduced as a pilot project in August and will target citizen volunteers who, because of their work, for example utility technicians or cable installers, are well-positioned to recognize unusual events.

As proposed, this initiative goes far beyond any acceptable action, legal or otherwise, the federal government should be involved in. A formal program organized, paid-for and maintained by our own federal government to recruit Americans to spy on fellow Americans, smacks of the very type of fascist or Communist government activity we fought so hard to eradicate in other countries in decades past.

This proposed snitch system, has the potential to circumvent the requirement in the Fourth Amendment precluding warrantless searches. It would result in massive amounts of information � not necessarily evidence of any wrongdoing � gathered on millions of law-abiding citizens without their consent or knowledge. And guess who would compile and maintain all that information in a massive computer bank linked to the government-sponsored toll-free call-in hotline? You guessed it, the federal government

The Founding Fathers had a very different vision � one based on freedom, opportunity and justice for all. The TIPS program is at direct odds with this vision, and I intend to work very hard to ensure it does not move forward. One of the primary reasons we sought our independence from the British Crown, was the Crown's refusal to acknowledge the colonists' right to abide by the notion that a man's home is his castle. We're in danger now, two-and-a-quarter centuries later, of losing that battle again.

Barr represents Georgia's Seventh District. He serves on the House Financial Services, Judiciary, and Government Reform Committees.