Letter from Capuano to Attorney General John Ashcroft Regarding Our Civil Liberties

July 17, 2002

John Ashcroft Attorney General

Dear Attorney General Ashcroft:

I write to express my grave concern over Operation TIPS, the Justice Department's misguided plans to encourage American citizens to spy on each other under the guise of fighting terrorism. I urge you to immediately abandon plans for its implementation.

I realize that you have yet to release specifics on Operation TIPS, described on the "Citizen Corps" website as a program that "will involve the millions of American workers who, in the daily course of their work, are in a unique position to see potentially unusual or suspicious activity in public places." However, the little information that has been shared with the general public to date disturbs me profoundly. I believe this invitation to amateur espionage violates our civil liberties, undermines the very principles upon which our great nation was founded, and risks dividing the American people who have since September 11th stood united in defense of our liberties.

Surely, Mr. Attorney General, you do not intend workers such as letter carriers, trash collectors, utility employees or people delivering daily newspapers in the pre-dawn hours to spy on those individuals they come into contact with on a daily basis? The precedents from Nazi German and Stalinist Russia are painfully obvious.

I know that we are living in dangerous times and heightened awareness is essential. However, I do not believe this authorizes the President or the Attorney General to recruit millions of Americans to spy on other Americans, the people they come into contact with on a daily basis.

I fear, moreover, that the useless, frivolous and possibly malicious calls generated by Operation TIPS will far outweigh any useful information gathered. Law enforcement officials will be overwhelmed. I call on you to reject Operation TIPS, and devote the Justice Department's human and financial resources to efforts that will truly advance the war on terrorism.

I look forward to your response.

Michael E. Capuano
Member of Congress