Electronic billboards in the Washington, D.C., area have been urging people to report terrorism tips on toll-free numbers. The Chicago Tribune notes that several other places, including New York City and state, Massachusetts and the federal government, have established similar tip lines. Law-enforcement officials view them as another source for collecting intelligence.
But the Tribune says it appears the lines have led to ethnic profiling that Arab-American groups have feared, as callers report people based on little more than their physical appearance.
Virginia has received 435 tips since Sept. 12, 2001, when the line was created. Pennsylvania had been receiving about 20 calls a week on its tip line, a volume that doubled once the war started. Virginia says, however, that only about 10 percent of the tips were deemed “pertinent.”
“We’ve gotten calls from people who’ve seen someone who looks Middle Eastern in the store or library, maybe on the computer,” a Virginia official said. “It’s definitely stereotyping.”
Carol Khaly of the American-Arab Anti-Discimination Committee says “it’s worrisome because you’re sending out these alerts without providing any guidance to the public as to what denotes any suspicious activity.”