The Citizen Corps are now recruiting a network of Americans willing to spy on their neighbors. I find this to be one of the more oppressive of the current anti-terrorist tactics. I should note that it is also likely to be the most effective (networks vs. networks, after all). But that efficacy comes at the worst price.
How to battle such a program? One way would be to draw attention to it and force the administration to eliminate the program in embarrassment. But I don’t think that this will stop it from rolling forward. Which means that we need to look at (preferably legal) methods of ensuring that this project is an utter failure, and that civil rights are protected. Some options:
1. False tipping. Is it illegal to give a false “tip.” Clearly, they are not looking for citizens to report crimes, but rather suspicious behavior. And no doubt, many will unwittingly report meaningless “tips.” Perhaps it is time for us to become artificially paranoid: pick people at random, and associate their behavior with “terrorist activities.” This might be particularly effective if a group decided ahead of time to give similar reports to the program.
The real question is whether intentionally specious reports will be any worse than the unintentionally specious ones. In the current environment, I do not trust investigators to set up surveillance, then decide the person isn’t really a terrorist and move on to another target. So there is the distinct possibility that such a strategy would actually contribute to a new McCarthyism.
2. Publicity of participants. I think that one way to make sure that this program would be less effective, and far less onerous, would be to publicize lists of participants. This smacks of naming abortionists and IRS employees, yet as a strategy it has a bit more relevance here. The web page seems to indicate that these volunteers will make themselves known by publicly displaying a sticker of some sort. I think a web site indicating these people’s names and a photograph of their faces would be a very reasonable response. You spy, I spy.
This would also allow those who are interested to keep them from accessing their private homes, etc.. It would also put their task of informing on fellow citizens more above the board and open to inspection. I’m curious as to the legality of utility workers going where police cannot.
How difficult would the second approach be? It would have to take place in one of the pilot cities, to ensure that the program is stymied before it gets out of control.