FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Monitor Thy Neighbor

by Rep. Ron Paul

Opposition to the Patriot Act, legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President last year, is growing. Americans are beginning to understand that many precious liberties have been put in jeopardy by the government’s rush to enact new laws in the wake of September 11th. Federal law enforcement agencies now have broad authority to conduct secret, warrantless searches of homes; monitor phone and internet activity; access financial records; and undertake large-scale tracking of American citizens through huge databases. We’re told this is necessary to fight the unending war on terror, but in truth the federal government has been seeking these powers for years. September 11th simply provided an excuse to accelerate the process and convince all of us to relinquish more and more of our privacy to the federal government.

Now the Justice department wants to extend the new investigative powers to private citizens. It recently unveiled Operation TIPS–Terrorism Information and Prevention System–as part of President Bush’s Citizen Corps initiative. The goal is to enlist thousands or even millions of Americans to act as spies for the government, reporting suspicious activity to officials using a handy toll-free hotline. The Justice department especially hopes to enlist mailmen, delivery drivers, plumbers, gas-meter readers, and the like, as they have access to private homes and businesses in their daily work. As usual, the war on terror is offered as justification for this proposal.

This almost might be funny if it were not real. Imagine the rampant abuses possible with a national spy program. Busybodies across the country will clamor to join the effort and act as self-appointed neighborhood vigilantes. Unscrupulous individuals of every stripe will abuse the program by snitching on ex-spouses, personal enemies, and racial groups they don’t like. Bickering neighbors will enjoy calling in to report unkempt lawns and barking dogs as sure signs of nefarious activity. I certainly hope the Justice department employs some very patient people to field the flood of useless calls.

If a government-sponsored snitch program sounds pretty bad to you, you’re not alone. Some commentators draw parallels between Operation TIPS and the citizen informants of the former East German Stasi secret police. Of course, suggesting the obvious–that citizen spy programs are incompatible with a free society–invites denunciations and sharp reminders that “we’re at war.” Remember, however, that wars have been used throughout modern history to justify rapid expansion of state power at the expense of personal liberty. We cannot remain free if we allow the endless, undeclared war on terror to serve as an excuse for giving up every last vestige of our privacy.

I applaud Congressman Dick Armey for adding a provision to the homeland security bill that would prohibit the Justice department from implementing the TIPS program. His opposition brings needed public attention to this terrible idea. But even if Congress supports him, there is no guarantee another informant proposal will not surface soon thereafter. Congressional oversight of administrative agencies (consider the Treasury department and its renegade IRS) is nonexistent. The Justice department almost certainly will seek another way to implement the program, with or without congressional approval.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves what kind of society we hope to leave our children and grandchildren. A civilized and free society would not be discussing, much less seriously debating, any proposal to enlist private citizens to act as federal neighborhood snitches.

Ron Paul, M.D., represents the 14th Congressional District of Texas in the United States House of Representatives.

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail