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Snitch Culture, How Citizensare Turned Into the Eyes and Ears of the State

February 16, 2001

Wednesday afternoon. The offices of The Stony Brook Press, an alternativecampus publication in a sleepy town in New York. Two Secret Service agents anda police officer enter the newspaper office. They are investigating a tip froman unidentified snitch, a faculty member.

After making inquiries, the agents locate a suspect and escort him to thecampus police office. There, they ask Glenn Given, managing editor of thecollege newspaper a litany of questions.

"They asked where I grew up, where I went to school, if I’d ever been convictedof a crime, if I take narcotics, if I’m on prescription medicine," Givenrecalled. "If I’m part of any anarchist or dissident groups, if I have anunnatural fixation on public figures, if I own or carry weapons. It was noto all of these things. My history is clean." Given granted the agents’request to search his home.

The crime that provoked the snitch to call and the authorities and agents toswoop down? Given wrote a editorial framed as a Christian prayer to satirizeBush’s emphasis on faith Based social services. It asked Jesus or "some crazymortal" to "smite" President George W. Bush.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Student Press LawCenter, both based in Alexandria, Va., called on the Secret Service to issuea formal apology for what they called an "overaggressive response" to anarticle clearly protected by the First Amendment.

The case is one example of the kind of surveillance most of us are subjectto. And not just by humor-impaired academics and cops. Increasingly, thegovernment and corporations are prying into every aspect of our public andprivate lives, from what books we read, to what web sites we visit, to how muchtoilet paper we buy.

Jim Redden’s new book ??Snitch Culture: How Citizens Are Turned into the Eyesand Ears of the State details the invasion of Netscape.


  • Jim Redden, investigative reporter and author of

SnitchCulture: How Citizens Are Turned into the Eyes and Ears of the State, FeralHouse Press.

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