OOIDA stands with DOJ on terrorist info program

| Friday, September 06, 2002

In an effort to communicate with citizens, including truckers who may have observed possible terrorist activity, the Bush administration has redesigned its Terrorism Information Prevention System (TIPS) so that it will survive congressional scrutiny.

But the TIPS program is far from a "done deal" due to criticism that surfaced this week in the Senate.

"OOIDA's original concerns regarding privacy have been satisfied and we think TIPS will not only help federal officials prevent possible terrorist activity, we also believe the program can help prevent crimes against truckers who are most often in the area where these activities are likely to occur," said Todd Spencer, executive vice- president of OOIDA. "Should it gain approval, we encourage all OOIDA members to choose to participate in the program."

Spencer says trucks have been used as weapons in places around the world for years. "At fuel facilities and ports, for example," he says. "That's where our guys are. So, they care from a standpoint of addressing the issue of terrorism, but they also care because they are likely to be victims."

In the original concept for the TIPS program, the federal government would invite persons whose jobs bring them through our communities to call a specific hotline when they see suspicious activity that might indicate possible terrorist activity. The types of workers the government originally included in its TIPS concept were letter carriers and utility workers, as well as truckers and other transportation workers.

Before the Bush administration could further define the specific scope of the project, the American Civil Liberties Union raised their red flags and accused the program of being one that would encourage neighbors to spy and report on their neighbors. Focusing on the use of letter carriers and utility workers whose jobs bring them into contact with people's homes and private property, the American Civil Liberties Union likened the program to the policies of dictatorial governments from world history. Even conservatives in Congress, such as House Majority Leader Dick Armey, chairman of the committee working to create a Department of Homeland Defense, railed against the program as being too much government intrusion into personal privacy. The House overwhelmingly denounced the program and threatened to kill it.

Congressional concerns forced the administration to redefine the program and do a better job of explaining its goals to the public. Now the TIPS program is more narrowly focused on those industries, such as trucking and transportation, whose workers are in a position to notice unusual behavior in public places such as roads, truckstop parking lots, ports, and loading and unloading facilities.

The administration does not need to convince Congress to approve the TIPS programs. It believes that it already has the authority to initiate this program as part of current White House and Department of Justice programs. Rather its efforts are now focused on preventing Congress from killing it.

Even before the administration announced the TIPS, OOIDA was telling Congress that truckers are one of the most underutilized sources of information in the war against terrorism. OOIDA also explained that the main obstacle to getting truckers to come forward with useful information is that state and local law enforcement officials have not developed a great deal of good will with truckers. Without an improvement of good will and trust, truckers are not likely to believe that efforts to report unusual or suspicious behavior will be taken seriously and acted upon.

"OOIDA got involved with the TIPS program because it has the potential to solve both problems," says Spencer. "TIPS will recognize the important contribution that truckers could make to the war against terrorism."

Truckers will be invited and encouraged to call a telephone number to submit information of possible terrorist activity. The TIPS program would then direct that information to the appropriate federal, state, or local law enforcement agency for their action.

Some trucking associations believe that truckers need to be trained to notice suspicious or unusual behavior on the highways or in the trucking industry, and have asked Congress for hundreds of thousands of dollars to do such training and set up their own hotline. OOIDA believes that experienced truckers with their knowledge of the road and the industry are already well prepared to identify unusual or suspicious behavior. OOIDA also believes that truckers will have much more confidence in calling a government sponsored telephone number with direct connection to law enforcement than the hotline of a private association that does not represent their interests.

The future of the TIPS program, however, rests on the Bush administration's and public's ability to convince Congress that workers like truck drivers are an important resource in the war against terrorism and that they should not cut off the administration's effort to tap that resource.

"We encourage all truckers to immediately contact their elected representatives in Washington and express their support for TIPS," says Spencer. "If there is an effort to contain terrorism on the nation's highways, who better to get involved than professional truckers."

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