ACLU Says Ohio's Anti-Terror Tip Program May Increase Profiling, Violate Privacy

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
January 25, 2006 12:00 am

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COLUMBUS, OH — The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed deep concerns with the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s new initiative, “See Something, Say Something,” which encourages residents to call a toll free line if they witness something they believe is “suspicious.”

“Programs such as this almost always prove to be ineffective in gathering information on possible terrorists,” said Christine Link, Executive Director of the ACLU of Ohio. “Even though they are created with the best of intentions, they only serve to reinforce stereotypes and cause innocent people to be subjected to government scrutiny.”

The state’s campaign will focus on distributing flyers and posters urging residents to report suspicious activity. Some of the cited examples of this type of activity include videotaping a government building or wearing bulky clothing on hot days.

“Many people who vacation in Ohio videotape government buildings while they are sight-seeing,” said Jeff Gamso, Legal Director of the ACLU of Ohio. “Calling that behavior suspicious and encouraging people to report will do nothing to prevent another terrorist attack and will only lead to innocent people coming under government scrutiny.”

The “See Something, Say Something” program lists a few organizations as co-sponsors, most notably the American Red Cross and the Ohio Hispanic Coalition.

“It is especially disappointing to see that the Red Cross has departed from its core mission of rescuing and providing care for others in order to promote an ineffective program such as this,” Link added.

This newest initiative resembles the ill-fated Operation TIPS proposed by the federal government in 2002. TIPS was intended to set up a network of utility workers and postal carriers to spy on other Americans and report any “suspicious activity” to a tip line. The program was eventually suspended because of increasing concerns over privacy and the possibility that it might have encouraged racial profiling.

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