DHS to firefighters: snoop on emergency victims for evidence of terrorism

The Department of Homeland Security is asking firefighters to snoop around in homes they're called to for emergencies. The DHS likes the idea because firefighters aren't bound by pesky warrants and probable cause and can therefore report on suspicious material like blueprints, anti-American literature, and potential bomb-making materials (e.g., the bedrooms of every friend I had, circa 1985). Firefighters are just the latest legion of potential snoops the DHS is leaning on -- they've also asked meter-readers to peer into our windows and sheds to find evidence of bad-guy-ery. This stuff doesn't work and won't work: amateur pecksniffs snitching on their neighbors just flood cops with bad intel, and turn the country into East Germany, a land where everyone is on alert lest they say the wrong thing and get turned in to the secret police. Link (via Digg)

See also: War on the Unexpected -- Schneier's dynamite essay on the War on Terror

Update: From the comments, andrewslayman writes:

As a volunteer firefighter, I will say that turning firefighters into spies is a bad idea.

If criminals have to worry that by calling the fire department they are also calling the DHS, they may be less likely to call in the first place, putting lives and property at further risk. If they do call, they may treat firefighters as hostile parties, placing firefighters' lives at risk beyond the normal hazards of the job.

If firefighters have to worry that each call may be a hostile one, that will distract them from the job at hand--saving lives in immediate peril--and could delay response time in a business where a few seconds or minutes often does make the difference between life and death.

The list of "suspicious" things that firefighters are supposed to be on the lookout for includes cameras, photographs, maps, and chemicals. In my professional life I am a photographer, so my house is full of cameras, photographs, maps, and chemicals (not to mention rubber gloves, an organic vapor mask, etc.)--all perfectly legal--that might fit the DHS's definition of "suspicious."