- August 6 - In a development bordering on what the American Civil Liberties Union called "surreal," the on-line magazine Salon.com today revealed that the Department of Justice is forwarding incoming Operation TIPS calls to the Fox-owned "America's Most Wanted" television series.
"This is like retaining Arthur Andersen to do all of the SEC's accounting," said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. "It's a completely inappropriate and frightening intermingling of government power and the private sector. What's next - the government hires Candid Camera to do its video surveillance?"
"If it continues to cooperate with the government on Operation TIPS, America's Most Wanted should move networks and rename itself 'Big Brother,'" King said.
The author of the Salon article, David Lindorff, reportedly signed up for TIPS more than a month ago, heard nothing and followed up last week with a phone call to the Department of Justice, the agency responsible for overseeing the proposed program. The department gave Lindorff another phone number, which it said had been set up by the FBI. When he dialed that number, Lindorff was greeted by a receptionist for "America's Most Wanted," which features reenactments of unsolved crimes and then asks the public to phone in leads and tips.
Shocked that the number did not connect to the FBI, Lindorff was told, "We've been asked to take the FBI's TIPS calls for them." The ACLU today said that, not only does the Operation TIPS program on its own pose serious threats to the American ideal that neighbors not be expected to inform on neighbors, but the program, when coupled with the power and profit incentives of television, could enhance its resemblance to Big Brother through sensationalism and the thirst for advertising revenue.
Even before its partnering with Fox Television, the Operation TIPS program has come under a barrage of criticism from both the left and the right. House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-TX), one of the most powerful and conservative members of Congress, introduced a measure in his chamber's version of the Homeland Security legislation that would prohibit the implementation of TIPS and other similar measures. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has also opposed the proposal, saying "We could be vigilant, but we don't want to be vigilantes."
"Why stop with America's Most Wanted?" King added. "If a sensational story
is what it was looking for, the Department of Justice should have just hired Jerry
Springer as its public information officer."