The Operation TIPS program being instituted by the Justice Department initially was to have been launched this month. But on Friday, officials said it will not be put into effect until Congress returns in September. The idea is to allow time for consultation with lawmakers, they said.
In the meantime, the department modified the plan to exclude as would-be tipsters people from industries and government agencies that often have access to people's homes.
The Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS) will focus instead on workers who operate on the highways, such as truck drivers, and at ports of entry, officials said.
The program came under heavy assault from civil libertarians and many in Congress, and the House passed a bill last month introduced by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, that would prohibit it.
Justice officials said in June that utility companies, the Postal Service and trucking companies would be sought as possible participants. The goal was to offer a hot line people could call if during the course of their workday they noticed something suspicious that could be terrorist activity.
But the Postal Service balked at its inclusion and other industries also expressed reservations, saying they didn't want their workers looked at by customers as potential spies.
The Justice Department no longer is seeking the participation of the Postal Service or utility companies that work in homes.
"We are not going to target any company or industry that has workers that are going inside people's homes or working around people's homes," said a Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official said the department is "absolutely discouraging" tips on activities from within people's homes.
Laura W. Murphy, director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Operation TIPS in any form is still a breach of public trust by the administration.
"They've scaled back Operation TIPS, but it is still an effort to enlist the private sector as government sanctioned peeping Toms," Murphy said. "And it is still not clear that the government is offering any guidance about how to respect people's civil liberties."
The Justice Department has not decided who will operate the hot line, but a likely choice is the National White Collar Crime Center. The organization is a nonprofit corporation of law enforcement agencies and state and local prosecution offices.