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Postal Service snubs Operation TIPS

mail carrier
Organizers envisioned a role for mail carriers in the program.  

From Kevin Bohn
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Postal Service said Wednesday it would not participate in a new Justice Department program that encourages millions of American workers to report suspicious activity they see while doing their routine work.

The program, named Operation TIPS, is called "a national reporting system that allows these workers, whose routines make them well-positioned to recognize unusual events, to report suspicious activity," according to a description posted on a government Web site.

Mail carriers were among several categories of workers organizers envisioned would participate in the program.

Operation TIPS has been the subject of intense criticism in the days since it was made public.

The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the program as a way to turn private sector works into "government-sanctioned peeping toms," and suggested that those participating in the program would be encouraged to go into people's homes to snoop.

The Justice Department said it has no intention of asking anyone to do that, although some of the those who might participate, such as utility workers, might have access to residences.

"The Postal Service had been approached by Homeland Security regarding Operation TIPS; however, it was decided that the Postal Service and its letter carriers would not be participating in the program at this time," said a statement released by the service.

The Postal Service offered not explanation for its decision.

Officials of the Justice Department had no immediate reaction to the Postal Service decision.

The Postal Service said Tuesday that "preliminary" discussions were ongoing between itself and the Justice Department and Office of Homeland Security regarding the program.

"It is our continued desire to work with these agencies on how to best use our assets in reporting suspicious activity across the country," the Postal Service said in a statement released Tuesday.

In a statement to CNN Tuesday, Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said the program is "based upon successful existing nongovernmental programs like Highway Watch, River Watch and Coast Watch, which enable American workers to report unusual and non-emergency issues that they observe in the normal course of their work."

Many industries, she said, "already have taken steps to offer their employees a voluntary way to report this type of information, but they are looking to the Department of Justice to offer a comprehensive, reliable and cost-effective voluntary reporting system."

A pilot stage of Operation TIPS is scheduled to launch either in late summer or early fall.




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