NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Government Is Encouraging Snitching

April 19, 1999

With increasing frequency, governmental bodies are offering cash rewards to people who spy on their friends and neighbors -- and then report on misdeeds. Privacy advocates contend the process is getting out of hand.

  • This past year, 708 informants collected $6.66 million from the Internal Revenue Service for reporting on acquaintances who were allegedly dodging taxes -- up from $3.5 million as recently as 1996.
  • The Clinton administration recently sponsored pep rallies in 31 cities to encourage Medicare recipients to inform on their doctors -- their reward being $1,000 bounties.
  • Schools from Oregon to Ohio to South Carolina are offering students cash payments for reporting the smoking, drinking or drug violations of their fellow students.
  • The Fairfax County, Va., government is recruiting homeowners to report on neighbors whose grass is too tall or whose yards are cluttered.

The percentage of federal search warrants relying exclusively on unidentified informants nearly tripled between 1980 and 1993 to 71 percent, according to the National Law Journal.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program trains children to summon police if they discover that their parents use marijuana or violate other drug laws.

Experts report that the Clinton administration has almost tripled federal funds for private organizations to snare realtors, banks, landlords and others into violating fair housing laws. Other informant schemes call for people to turn in others for not wearing seatbelts, for telling ethnic or racist jokes and for failing to recycle their garbage properly.

Source: James Bovard (author), "Don't Look Now, But a Friend May Be Spying On You," USA Today, April 19, 1999.


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