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Oct. 24 2009 - 9:13 am | 2,791 views | 4 recommendations | 37 comments

LAPD freaks out America with new Orwellian ad

The LAPD has just released a new Orwellian commercial for iWatch, a program that encourages residents to spy on each other and report any “suspicious behavior” (whatever that means) to the authorities, who we’re assured will sort everything out.

Image from the LAPD's iWatch ad (www.nbclosangeles.com)

Image from the LAPD's iWatch ad (www.nbclosangeles.com)

Unsurprisingly, many people are reacting negatively to the ad. Huffington Post commenters call the ad “scary,” “hysterical,” and one individual muses about how long it’s going to take Apple to sue the LAPD for copyright infringement. NBC Los Angeles declares that the LAPD is “creeping out America.”

This isn’t the first time a creepy spying ad has hit the airwaves. A reader informed me that the post-9/11 Australian government formed something called the National Security Hotline, a similar program to iWatch:

These kinds of anonymous hotlines are ripe for abuse, and there exist endless possibilities of innocent citizens being reported by their neighbors for the crime of “Living While Being Arab.”

We all remember the terrible TIPS program, the Bush administration’s “solution” to its own catastrophic intelligence failure that led to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Not that anything was actually wrong with the intelligence. In fact, President Bush received an intelligence briefing a month before 9/11 with the title, “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S.” that included the warning al Qaeda had been considering ways to hijack American planes. The intelligence itself was just fine, but the hapless Bush administration ignored the warnings.

After the 9/11 attacks, we were told the solution to terrorism was to have citizens spy on each other, and not to, say, elect a competent government. That’s when TIPS (Terrorist Information and Prevention System) was born, an initiative to recruit one million volunteers in 10 cities across the country that encouraged them to report suspicious activity that might be terrorism-related. An investigative political journalist, Ritt Goldstein, observed in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald that TIPS would provide America with a higher percentage of “citizen spies” than the former East Germany had under the notorious Stasi secret police.

An editorial in the Washington Post decried the program:

“Americans should not be subjecting themselves to law enforcement scrutiny merely by having cable lines installed, mail delivered or meters read. Police cannot routinely enter people’s houses without either permission or a warrant. They should not be using utility workers to conduct surveillance they could not lawfully conduct themselves.”

The United States Postal Service stated categorically it would refuse to allow its mailpersons to participate, and the ACLU wasted no time in calling the TIPS program exactly what it was, “a contingent of organized government informants” and “government-sanctioned peeping toms,” and an “end run around the Constitution.”

The Constitution. Remember that thing? The Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, and includes the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy. Maybe Americans have gotten so accustomed to the government spying on their phone calls, and indefinitely detaining detainees without trial or presented evidence, that the occasional citizen spying program doesn’t seem unusual to them anymore.

Operation TIPS was officially cancelled in 2002 when the Homeland Security Act was passed by Congress. However, in 2008, the Denver Post reported that 181 individuals, including police officers, paramedics, firefighters, utility workers, and railroad employees had been trained as “Terrorism Liaison Officers” to report suspicious information which could be signs of terrorist activity, a virtually identical TIPS program, and a classic example of “same shit, different toilet.”

Now, the LAPD appears to be implementing a mini-TIPS program. Hopefully, similar outrage from L.A. citizens will lead to the cancellation of iWatch. It’s the job of law enforcement and the government, and not citizens, to police the streets. Citizens are not trained in information-gathering techniques, and there’s a reason law enforcement must obtain warrants before violating an individual’s privacy. Programs like TIPS, or “Terrorism Liaison Officers,” or iWatch are all different names for the same thing: unconstitutional spying.

In an article opposing the TIPS program, Marjorie Cohn, an associate professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, quotes, “Watch out for well-meaning men of zeal,” words penned 74 years ago by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Indeed. Watch out for well-meaning persons of zeal, whether they sit in the Oval Office or in the LAPD headquarters.


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  1. collapse expand

    This commercial begs a really obvious question: Why isn’t there a dude at the end saying, “My name is Mohamed, and iWatch?” Because if you really wanted to make sure this wasn’t all about ’round up the Muslims,’ you’d imply that it’s in everyone’s interests, Muslim Angelenos included, to report any suspicious activity. Way to go LAPD!

  2. collapse expand

    Interchange terrorism with communism and imagine that this was something shown during the Red Scare or the McCarthy era. The use of fear is a common tactic of government institutions or other institutions that have some sort of power. Its quite disturbing that even though we know about certain periods of time that had governments and other institutions using these tactics with devastating results (such as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union under Stalin, Europe and colonial Massachusetts during the Witch Hunts and witch trials, and of course the two I mentioned above) and we still use them today.

  3. collapse expand

    The LAPD has had some panic attacks in the last couple years – they thought someone had set off a chemical bomb when it was really just bleach from the Standard Hotel pool. You’d think they’d try to MINIMIZE freakouts like that one, but instead it looks like they’re just encouraging them.

  4. collapse expand

    I believe its everyone’s responsibility to call the police if they see a crime committed or see suspicious characters in their neighborhoods, this is just being a good neighbor.

    I don’t agree with TV adverts made for the soul purpose of watching for terrorist, How many “wedding” party’s here will be disrupted not by predator drones unleashing missiles on a house, but by the L.A.P.D arriving in swat trucks

  5. collapse expand

    The lack of any sense of irony of those folks is astounding.

  6. collapse expand

    Well Congress is already starting to look like the Politburo, a bunch of self-serving, kleptocratic old functionaries, and our economy like the USSR, bombed out, and hollow from years of incompetent planning,

    Might as well have KGB style informers as well.

  7. collapse expand

    Let’s not forget…that LAPD cops pay no social security taxes…they are all exempt as are all 30,000 los angeles city employees…..

  8. collapse expand

    Asking for tips about alleged criminal activity the way the Los Angeles Police Department is doing might aid legitimate law enforcement from time to time. But I fear some of the tips will lead to wrongful arrests and wrongful convictions, the topic of my T/S blog. It seems logical to assume that ill-motivated and/or mentally unbalanced tipsters will be contacting the LAPD.

  9. collapse expand

    Yah right…

    but seriously, who do you call when you see criminals in the government, law enforcement, and business aiding and abetting illegal aliens?

  10. collapse expand

    I agree that this thing will undoubtedly lead to ridiculous calls from ridiculous people, and should not be used as reasonable suspicion for search and seizure.

    But the basic premise of the program – that we should all pay attention to our communities – is good. These days, there’s a lot fewer neighborhood watch groups. People don’t pay attention to what’s going on in their neighborhood as much. They’re not as active and vocal. If we could encourage people to do that, I don’t know if it would do anything to help terrorism, but it could do a lot to stop crime and make communities safer for kids.

  11. collapse expand

    “The intelligence itself was just fine, but the hapless Bush administration ignored the warnings.”

    Thank you! I’ve been saying this since 2002. The same with previous administrations obsession with compiling databases of info on Americans (contracted out to private companies to avoid any silly constitutional issues). There was lots and lots of intelligence data available prior to 9/11; there weren’t enough analysts looking at the data they had. So the answer is to compile more data???

  12. collapse expand

    My neighbor has a bomb up his ass, officer!

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