In Joe McCarthy's day they were called "snitch lines." They worked like this: if you suspected your colleague or neighbor or employee was up to something un-American - leaving lights on when nobody was home, sympathizing with the Communists, etc. - you could call up a special phone number and anonymously rat them out.
In this time of heightened national security, the snitch lines are back. In the aftermath of September 11th, the FBI received tens of thousands of calls on so-called "tip" lines, and folks were broadly rounded up for questioning.
One tip-line caller reported a suspicious-looking billboard near Times Square in New York. Soon after, a Department of Defense agent paid a visit to Chashama, the theater and art gallery that had leased space to Adbusters for its Corporate American Flag billboard. The agent had a lot of questions: Why were they displaying the billboard? Who paid for it? Who created it? (One clue might have been the website listed on the sign.)
You might call this vigilant grassroots anti-terrorism work. Or you might call it low-level intimidation. In the current climate, it seems, some types of social commentary are off-limits. If you've chosen this time to exercise your First Amendment rights in a critical way, you may find yourself under investigation.
We don't want these individual voices to get lost in the chorus of programmatic patriotism. That's why we're setting up our own "snitch" line. If you know of valid protests or social-marketing messages that are being suppressed, investigated or otherwise discouraged, or if you come across any other story of low level intimidation, tell us about it.