live free or die

Dalia Lithwick of Slate has taken the contrarian position that the Citizen Snitch program, TIPS, is actually a good thing. She makes a good point in that we do have similar "snitch" programs, namely mandatory child-abuse-reporting laws:

...these same dire possibilities lurks in the existing mandatory child-abuse-reporting laws, yet few of us are arguing for their repeal, and fewer of us argue that they have brought about the parade of horribles cited by the critics of TIPS. Indeed, many of us recently called for expanding the reporting laws to include clergy, following the recent church sex scandals. We believe that reporting systems work.
The states' mandatory-reporting statutes exist for good reason: We believe ferreting out child abuse is worth sacrificing some privacy. We believe child abuse is so clandestine that anyone able to pierce the shroud of secrecy should report it. We believe that simply asking good Samaritans to come forward and report abuse is ineffective; they don't. And we believe that child abuse is so awful that identifying the small number of substantiated cases is worth sifting through masses of false reports.

Why is terrorism different? Can't an equally compelling argument be made that terrorism is so vile, and obtaining information so difficult, that it's worth sacrificing some privacy to root out cells before they strike?

but the problem is that terrorism IS different. The reason is that a false accusation can be much, much more harmful. If you are falsely accused of child abuse, you still have a degree of due process. But for accusations of terrorism, all that is required to lock you away without access to counsel or your constitutional rights is simply labeling you as a menace. Just ask Jose Padilla, who has been secreted away without access to his lawyer for crimes he hasn't committed.

already we have seen the effect of having hyper-paranoid civilians in minor positions of authority. Consider the case of 20 year old Samyuktha Verma, a movie star from India flying to New York with her family:

The Vermas' excitement over seeing the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty for the first time and the seat-switching, finger-pointing and exclamations in a foreign tongue so alarmed one passenger that she alerted a flight attendant, fearing the group might be terrorists.

The end result was that the plane was escorted into La Guardia by F-16 escorts, and police officers stormed the jet and the entire family was taken into FBI custody, and freed after questioning. Verma was understanding but quite shaken - she said in an interview:

. "Now I am afraid to be here, that if I go shopping and start laughing or talking too loudly in my language, someone will think I am up to something. I say to Indians, 'Don't laugh during a flight. Just sit there quietly, read something or sleep.'

The problem with TIPS is that is exists in the post-9-11 world. Mandatory reporting laws still exist in a pre-9-11 atmosphere. But when it comes to the spectre of terrorism, you often hear the refrain, "the Constitution is not a suicide pact."

New Hampshire voters would disagree. Their position is, "Live free or die."

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